Physical activity is a workout for your muscles AND your mind.
Whether your cardio workout is torching major calories or your strength classes are toning your tush, you already know the perks of exercising for your body. But you may not know just how effective exercise can be for your brain, especially for helping treat ADHD. “When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine that help you pay attention and think better,” says psychiatrist Susan Samuels, MD, of New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.
Research shows that exercise can also reduce stress and anxiety, improve executive function (i.e. making decisions), boost working memory, and reduce impulsivity. To get the best results from exercising for ADHD, try the following tips.
Find activities you love and add them to your daily routine. If you try to force yourself onto the dreaded treadmill when it’s really not your thing, you’re less likely to stick to it.
Get a dual mind-body workout. Try activities that also challenge your mind, like rock-climbing, ice skating, or martial arts. All that concentration and fine motor coordination will activate multiple areas of the brain.
Get outside. Exercising in nature may help improve ADHD symptoms better than working out in a stuffy gym. Try cycling, tennis, or outdoor yoga to get the benefits of an open-air workout.
Exercise in the morning. “People with ADHD tend to have a harder time waking up, and exercise may actually help by boosting levels of brain chemicals that help you focus,” says Dr. Samuels. Yeah, it ain’t easy to get out of bed in the first place, but it pays off in the end. (Psst...here’s a morning workout that actually starts on your bed.)
Try yoga. This low-impact workout focuses on mindfulness while reducing stress and anxiety, making it the perfect workout for tackling ADHD symptoms. (We promise: you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, but here are simple yoga stretches to get you started.)
While exercise will not replace ADHD treatment like medication and therapy, getting sweaty can supplement your regimen and make everyday life a little easier.
Dr. Samuels is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
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Exercise isn't a replacement for
other ADHD treatments, like medication or
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therapy, but for some patients,
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it can play a huge roll in helping to
manage and improve their symptoms.
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Exercise isn't just healthy for
your muscles or
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your heart, scientific evidence shows
it's really powerful for your brain.
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When you exercise, your brain releases
chemicals called neurotransmitters,
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such as norepinephrine and dopamine, that
help you pay attention and think better.
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The stimulant drugs that ADHD
patients take help make some of these
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available in the brain.
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Exercise can give your brain
many of the same benefits.
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Studies show exercise can
reduce stress and anxiety,
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improve executive functioning, boost
working memory, and reduce impulsivity.
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Here are some more tips for making
exercising with ADHD even more effective.
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First, find activities you love and
work to add them to your daily routine.
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If you love spinning, sign up for
a class you can commit to every week.
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But if you can find an activity
that challenges your brain and
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your body at the same time, like mountain
biking, martial arts or rock climbing.
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Some research suggest activities that tax
your attention systems are even better for
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people with ADHD than just cardio.
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Exercise outside whenever you can.
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There's something about being in nature
that helps improve ADHD symptoms
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more than being in other settings,
like a stuffy gym.
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If your routine can swing it, try to
exercise first thing in the morning.
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People with ADHD tend to have a harder
time waking up and exercise may actually
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help by boosting levels of brain
chemicals that help you focus.
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If you're not already into yoga,
consider giving it a fair chance.
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It's great for increasing mindfulness and
reducing stress and
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anxiety that many adults
with ADHD are prone to.
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- Lee SK, Lee CM, Park JH. Effects of combined exercise on physical fitness and neurotransmitters in children with ADHD: a pilot randomized controlled study. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(9):2915-2919. d
- Spent Time Outside to Improve ADHD Symptoms. Lanham, MD. CHADD. (Accessed on 1/1/2021 at https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/spend-time-outside-to-improve-adhd-symptoms/)
ADHD and exercise. New York, NY: Child Mind Institute. (Accessed on January 1, 2021 at https://childmind.org/article/adhd-and-exercise/.)The exercise prescription. Bournemouth, UK: Attention Magazine, 2012. (Accessed on January 1, 2021 at http://www.chadd.org/AttentionPDFs/ATTN_06_12_Exercise.pdf.)