Does Exercise Help ADHD?

Unleashing the Power of Movement

Published on
August 14, 2023

In the whirlwind of modern life, finding moments of tranquility and clarity can be a labyrinthine journey, especially for those navigating the intricate paths of ADHD. But fear not, for there's an ally that stands ready to help harness the scattered thoughts and embrace a newfound sense of control – exercise.

Yeah, I know - I wish it was a more exciting topic, but hear me out!

This oft-underestimated tool acts as a conductor, orchestrating a harmonious symphony within the chaos of an ADHD mind. Here's to how to naturally treat ADHD, one movement at a time.

The Dance of Mind and Body

Scientifically proven, exercise isn't just for the body; it's a sanctuary for the mind. Don’t just take our word for it - WebMD says "Even a single session of moving your body can make you more motivated for mental tasks, increase your brainpower, give you energy, and help you feel less confused.” And in this helpful guide, Michael Lara, MD, says “There is now a consensus among experts that regular exercise is one of best things you can do to treat ADHD.”

The beauty of exercise lies in its accessibility, as various forms of movement can work wonders. Beyond the endorphin rush and physical vitality it provides, exercise showers a cascade of benefits on both mental and physical health. That’s why exercise is one of the most recommended coping skills for adults with ADHD. Getting your body moving helps with stress relief, boosted confidence, sharper brainpower, and enhanced focus – a true balm for the wandering ADHD mind.

The dance between exercise and ADHD is far from one-dimensional. Research highlights exercise as a secret weapon against impulsivity, a guardian of quality sleep, and an unrivaled energy source. In fact, exercise's impact on cognitive and behavioral functions mirrors that of ADHD medications. It's a natural elixir that helps align the jigsaw pieces of a disordered puzzle, making it a great tool for those interested in managing ADHD without medication. In fact, check this out - exercise can:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improve impulse control & reduce compulsive behavior
  • Improve working memory
  • Increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein involved in learning and memory for which people with ADHD tend to be deficient)

How Does ADHD Affect Exercise?

ADHD symptoms are caused by an imbalance of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. The most talked-about is dopamine - a feel-good chemical involved in movement, memory, motivation, attention, sleep, mood, learning, and much more. People with ADHD tend to be short on dopamine, but exercise helps boost dopamine production.

The problem is, in order to get our under-stimulated brains to get on board the movement train, it’s often not enough just to know it’s beneficial. ADHD brains are interest-based, not importance-based. So if you struggle to get yourself moving, it’s normal - it doesn’t mean you’re lazy or undisciplined, as some of our neurotypical peers and family members like to say.

In fact, Dr. Lara explains that, “like medication, exercise only works if you take it. As a result, it is important to work with the ADHD brain (rather than against it) when designing an exercise routine.” He also notes that, while general guidelines suggest moderate cardio 4-5 times per week is best for treating ADHD, “there are a few gaping holes in these guidelines, as few recommendations…translate how adults can use exercise for ADHD.”

Reimagining the Movement Spectrum

So, how do you work up the motivation to exercise, so that the exercise can get you motivated for other tasks?

Like Dr. Lara said, a significant stride towards incorporating exercise into an ADHD-friendly lifestyle is discovering the movement that resonates with you. Just as the world's rhythms vary, so too does our affinity for movement. Whether it's the rhythmic beat of jogging, the calming sway of yoga, or the empowering sensation of weight lifting, movement finds its expression through diverse forms.

Admittedly, it's often when we're most fatigued that the thought of movement feels least appealing. Yet, like a gentle breeze guiding a restless sail, even a brief moment of movement can rejuvenate our spirits. A quick burst of activity gets our blood flowing, provides a respite from the mundane, and restores our vigor. Such coping skills for ADHD**,** woven into the fabric of your day, can significantly contribute to managing the challenges and embracing the strengths of an ADHD mind. Here are a few quick tips:

  1. Choose a specific time (or times, if you’re like me and need to break it into super small chunks) and stick with it. Habit stacking is great for this.
  2. Use the buddy system. Maybe you can find a friend or neighbor to walk with, or even just someone you enjoy talking on the phone with, who you can talk to while you walk.
  3. On a similar note, listen to a podcast, audiobook, comedy routine, or something else you enjoy while you work out. (This tip works best if you ONLY listen to that specific podcast, audiobook, etc, when you exercise).
  4. Sign up for a course or class. It’s a great way to add some accountability, which is one of the most motivating things for our brains.
  5. Try something new! Novelty is another big dopamine booster, which means it’s great for motivation. Here are some exercises you probably haven’t tried, if you need some ideas!

Nurturing the Seeds of Movement

Time, that elusive commodity, poses a challenge in integrating exercise into a jam-packed day. But don’t worry - you don’t need to carve out a big chunk of time for this. Movement's magic can unfold even in the smallest pockets of time. For example:

  • Opt for the stairs over the elevator
  • Choose a farther parking spot
  • Sneak in some desk-side squats and stretches
  • Walking during meetings or while on a call adds steps and substance to your day
  • Online resources, like the plethora available on YouTube, stand ready to guide you in short, effective workouts.

Remember, the key is consistency, not excess. Balance is vital; overexertion can dampen progress and take a toll on both body and mind. Acknowledge the ebb and flow of your needs – some days, a gentle stroll might be more soothing than a high-intensity workout. This gradual and consistent approach serves as a cornerstone in ADHD ****management, helping you tap into the power of movement.

A Personal Symphony of Movement

For some, like me, exercise is more than just a habit – it's a sanctuary, a chance to sculpt both body and soul. Weight lifting empowers, creating a mental fortitude that echoes into life's challenges. Yoga intertwines mind and body, nurturing mindfulness and focus. And walking by the lakeside serves as a connection to nature and a respite from screens. These routines, guided by your intuition - and perhaps an adult ADHD coach - are integral in your journey of managing adult ADHD.

A Cycle of Empowerment

Consider this: exercise, like life itself, is a cycle. It's not about completing a task, but about nurturing a lifelong bond with movement. There will be days of rest and rejuvenation, days of pushing limits, and days of embracing what your body and mind require. Think of exercise as an opportunity, a way to honor the incredible capabilities of your body and mind.

Need a little help getting started? No sweat. Adult ADHD coaches at Shimmer understand the nuances of managing ADHD in everyday life, and can help you find the easiest ways to incorporate movement into your life.

So, here's to the dance of movement, the rhythm of change, and the symphony of progress. Through exercise, the scattered puzzle of ADHD finds its missing pieces, and the journey towards focus, well-being, and self-discovery becomes a harmonious endeavor.

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