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The Power of Exercise for Managing ADHD Symptoms

As the days are longer and evenings become brighter, it's the perfect time to embrace a powerful tool for managing ADHD symptoms: exercise.
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The Power of Exercise for Managing ADHD Symptoms

28/03/2024
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As the days are longer and evenings become brighter, it’s the perfect time to embrace a powerful tool for managing ADHD symptoms: exercise.

Exercise can be crucial for managing ADHD symptoms. There are many benefits and there are ways to incorporate exercise into your routine, even if you’re not a fan of traditional workouts.

Why exercise?

The relationship between exercise and ADHD is grounded in science. Several studies have investigated the relationship between exercise and ADHD symptoms, providing evidence to support the benefits of physical activity for anyone with ADHD.  

A 2017 meta-analysis researching the link between ADHD and exercise found helpful effects for cardiovascular and non-cardiovascular exercise.  

One study looked at the effects of exercise in children with ADHD and showed that it alleviated the symptoms of ADHD, improving attention, executive function, and motor skills.

Why does exercise work?

Exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—chemicals in the brain responsible for regulating mood, attention, and motivation.  

People with ADHD often have lower levels of these neurotransmitters, contributing to symptoms. Regular exercise can boost these neurotransmitter levels, improving focus, mood stability, and impulse control.  

The effects of a dopamine boost can last for over an hour after exercising. Giving enough time to start a task that requires concentration.  

Attitude Magazine recently featured a case study showcasing a student with ADHD whose symptoms saw a remarkable improvement by incorporating daily runs into his routine. The profound connection between exercise and his symptoms has been a revelation, highlighting the transformative power of physical activity in managing ADHD. 

Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, promoting the growth of new brain cells and enhancing cognitive function.

Research conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign demonstrated how exercise increases blood flow to the brain, promoting neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to adapt and change. This heightened blood flow facilitates the growth of new brain cells and enhances cognitive function, including executive functions like working memory, planning, and organisation.  

The neurological benefits of exercise are particularly crucial for anyone with ADHD, as they often struggle with deficits in these executive functions. By incorporating regular exercise into your routine, you can harness the neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects of physical activity to manage your symptoms better.

The Multifaceted Benefits of Exercise for ADHD

The benefits of exercise extend beyond symptom management as they encompass well-being and quality of life. Incorporating physical activity into your routine can positively impact various aspects of ADHD: 

Improved Focus and Concentration: Regular exercise sharpens cognitive abilities, making it easier to sustain attention and concentrate on tasks. 

Enhanced Mood Regulation: Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood elevators, helping to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression commonly associated with ADHD. 

Better Sleep Patterns: Physical activity promotes restful sleep, which is essential with ADHD, as sleep disturbances can exacerbate symptoms. 

Stress Reduction: Exercise serves as a healthy outlet for pent-up energy and frustration, reducing stress levels and promoting emotional well-being.

Tips for Making Exercise Appealing

Not everyone finds traditional exercise routines enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits. Follow this 10-step plan for incorporating exercise into your life, even if you’re not a fan of the gym: 

Start Small

Begin with short sessions of physical activity, aiming for 10-15 minutes per day. 

Set Realistic Goals

Establish achievable goals that meet your current fitness level and lifestyle. For example, aim to walk for 30 minutes three times a week or complete a beginner’s workout routine twice a week. 

Find Activities You Enjoy

Explore different types of exercise to discover what resonates with you. Whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or yoga, choose activities that you find enjoyable. 

Schedule Exercise Sessions

Treat exercise like any other important appointment by scheduling it into your daily or weekly routine. Choose a time of day when you’re most likely to stick to your workout plan and make it a non-negotiable part of your schedule.

Make It Social

Invite friends, family members, or colleagues to join you in your exercise. Exercising with others not only makes it more enjoyable but also provides accountability and motivation. 

Be Flexible

Understand that life can be unpredictable, and it’s okay to adjust your exercise plan as needed. If you miss a workout or encounter obstacles, don’t dwell on setbacks. Instead, focus on moving forward and staying committed to your fitness goals. 

Track Your Progress

Keep a record of your exercise sessions, noting the duration, intensity, and how you felt afterwards. Tracking your progress can help you stay motivated and see the positive impact of your efforts over time. 

Celebrate Your Achievements

Whether it’s completing a workout, increasing your endurance, or simply sticking to your exercise plan for a week, recognise your efforts and reward yourself for your dedication. 

Get Support

Don’t hesitate to seek support from professionals, such as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, or healthcare provider if you need guidance or motivation. They can offer advice and strategies to help you succeed. 

Stay Consistent

Consistency is key to establishing a regular exercise habit. Aim to gradually increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of your workouts over time, but remember that even small steps forward are progress. 

Use Technology

Explore fitness apps, online workout videos, or virtual fitness classes for guidance and inspiration. 

Peloton is also a great way to exercise in your own home with virtual classmates.

Tips for Making Exercise Appealing

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether cardio or strength training is better for alleviating ADHD symptoms. The most effective approach may involve a combination of both types of exercise, tailored to individual preferences and needs. 

Some people find that cardio exercises help them regulate their energy levels and improve focus, while others may prefer the structured and goal-oriented nature of strength training. Ultimately, the key is to choose activities that you enjoy and can maintain consistently over time. 

One study looked at the effects of cycling compared with yoga on ADHD symptoms. Both had a positive outcome.

Ready to Start?

Experimenting with different types of exercise and finding what works best for you is essential. Whether it’s running, swimming, lifting weights, or practising yoga, the important thing is to stay active and incorporate regular exercise into your routine to experience the positive effects.

As the evenings grow lighter this month, seize the opportunity to prioritise physical activity in your life. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or a reluctant exerciser, there are ways to incorporate movement into your routine and experience the benefits it offers. 

Start small, stay consistent, and remember that every step toward a more active lifestyle is a step toward better ADHD management and a healthier, happier you.

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