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Move to Improve: Exercise Can Help Manage ADHD

3 Ways to Improve Your Focus by Getting a Daily Dose of Exercise

Woman climbing stone steps wearing orange and grey sneakers

Ever feel like you have to work out the kinks after sitting too long? Moving around does just that. It lubricates your joints and makes you feel better. Remarkably, movement lubricates your brain too.

Did you know that a single session of exercise can increase focus, retention, and clarity similar to the effects of ADHD medication?

Here’s Why Exercise Can Help Manage ADHD

It’s commonly known that exercise is crucial for maintaining good health. By increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery, exercise calms the nervous system and promotes heart health. It helps the immune system fight infections by boosting lymph circulation. Ultimately, its essential for staying healthy and feeling energized.

Research now shows that movement benefits the brain too. Just like your body, your brain needs exercise to stay limber, focused, and calm.

Be Limber:

Physical activity boosts blood flow, increasing oxygen and nutrients delivery to the brain. This improved blood flow stimulates neurogenesis, generating new neurons that enhance brain health and plasticity. Plasticity allows the brain to adapt to changing environments, think creatively, and switch between tasks.

Get Focused:

The more you move, the more your nerve cells communicate and transfer information from one nerve cell to the next. This heightened communication boosts dopamine and norepinephrine levels which help you focus. Optimal levels of these neurotransmitters facilitate your brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant information and stay on task.

Stay Calm:

There’s a serum in your brain called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that cultivates cognitive and emotional well-being. The brain relies on high levels of BDNF not only to stay focused, but also to learn, form memories, and regulate mood. Low BDNF levels, however, are associated with anxiety, depression, and memory loss. Luckily, exercise makes it possible to increase BDNF levels.

The Trouble with ADHD & Inactivity

Research suggests that BDNF levels tend to be lower in individuals with ADHD, contributing to their inattention, distractibility, and even mood swings. When a person is inactive, blood flow to the brain slows causing brain fog and unregulated emotions. Combining low BDNF levels with inactivity can leave an individual with ADHD feeling lethargic, demotivated, even stuck.

Sound discouraging? It does not have to be. You can get unstuck simply by moving.

In fact, exercise is the best non-pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD. Exercise is similar to ADHD medication in its effects on the brain. In fact, for some individuals, regular exercise can be their primary treatment for ADHD. For others, exercise is a good supplement to their medication. Either way, the key is to exercise every day.

Does this mean you have to become a marathon runner to increase BDNF levels? Not at all. You can reap the benefits of sharper focus and better moods through physical activities you enjoy. The options are endless.

The Solution Is a Daily Dose

Like medication, the effect of exercise dissipates over time. That’s why giving yourself a regular dose is essential. Adopting exercise as part of your routine can be an effective and natural way to help manage ADHD symptoms.

Choose an exercise that suits you. Aim for at least one activity that gets you moving for 30-40 minutes a day. Moderately intense movement is most effective. This means that while moving you get your heart rate up, breathe harder and faster, sweat a bit, and feel fatigue in your muscles.

Choose an Activity That Fits

Not sure where to start? Simply choose an activity that entertains you. Check out these three approaches to engaging in moderately intense exercise:

Be Good to Your Heart

Go to the gym, get outside, engage with a friend. Here are a few examples:

  • Take a brisk walk

  • Hike with a friend

  • Run in the woods

  • Go for a paddle, kayak, canoe, or SUP

Train Your Body & Mind

Level up your movement. Several physical activities hone concentration, balance, timing, memory, and fine motor skills.

Make It Fun. Make It Productive.

You don't need a monotonous workout to get the benefits of exercise. Double up and get stuff done. Make it social or play with your kids.

  • Play tag

  • Do heavy yard work

  • Run errands on your bike

  • Stack wood, mow the lawn

  • Play a team sport

  • Walk with a friend

  • Kids have practice? Don’t sit idle while waiting, go for a run

The Bottom Line

Movement helps you think and feel better. Even a short walk or dance party in your kitchen can do wonders to clear your mind, aid learning, sharpen memory, and improve your mood. A daily dose of movement keeps your brain limber and your attention in check.



Exploring the Link Between ADHD and Exercise by Gregory Minnis

The Exercise Prescription by Michael Lara MD

What's the Best Exercise to Manage ADHD Symptoms? by Rachel Reiff Ellis

The Health Benefits of Yoga by Rebecca Buffum Taylor

These 19 Benefits of Pilates Will Inspire You to Fire Up Your Core by Roxie Menzies

The Health Benefits of Tai Chi

6 Health Benefits of Playing Pickleball by Anytime Fitness

Ratey JJ. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.


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