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The Relationship Between Exercise and ADHD


It’s hard to deny that exercise is good for you.  It’s so good…in fact…that studies are now showing that it can work just like medication for people with certain conditions. Adults and children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can have trouble paying attention, controlling their emotions or finishing tasks.  New studies are showing that an increase in exercise for this individuals can make a significant difference in how they manage their condition.

How Exercises and ADHD Medications Work on the Brain

Each time you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters.  Dopamine is one example of a neurotransmitter that helps you with attention and clearer thinking.  People who have ADHD often have less dopamine in their brain than usual.  To compensate, doctors proscribe medications that increase the availability of dopamine in their brains. 

New studies are showing that simply adding exercise to your daily routine can help those who suffer from ADHD:  

        • Reduce stress and anxiety
        • Ease compulsive behavior and improve impulse control
        • Improve working memory
        • Increase executive function (These are skills that help you plan, organize, and remember details.)
        • Increase levels of neurotrophic factor derived from the brain.  (This is a protein that helps with memory and learning and is low in ADHD suffers.)

Scientific Research on the Relationship Between ADHD and Exercise

A study from the Dr. Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois found that kids who exercised regularly showed enhancement cognitive performance and brain function.  They exhibited higher executive control, which means they could resist distraction, maintain focus, and switch more easily between tasks.  

Another study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that 8 weeks with 26 minutes of daily physical activity significantly improved ADHD symptoms in grade school children.  

Dr. Hillman stated that our world had a “pandemic of physical inactivity” that is a “serious threat to global health.”  He claimed that this issue is responsible for 10 percent of premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases.  

Exercise is a great way to manage symptoms of ADHD.

Exercise is a great way to manage symptoms of ADHD.

Exercise doesn’t just help children and adults with ADHD.  A Swedish  professor named Paul Nystedt told the Atlantic journalist that, “Obese teenagers go on to earn 18 percent less money as adults than their peers, even if they are no longer obese.”  Nystadt went on to state, “The rapid increase in childhood and adolescent obesity could have long-lasting effects on the economic growth and productivity of nations.”  

A Harvard associate professor named John Ratey suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD.  Just like the medication Adderall, even light physical activity can trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin to improve mood and cognitive performance.  

How Can You Make the Most of this Information?

We always recommend that you talk to your doctor before changing any medication or beginning a new exercise program.  However, adding physical exercise to your daily routine may help you or your loved one deal with symptoms of ADHD.

A home treadmill or elliptical can be the perfect tool to meet your new exercise goals.  Before you go to work or school, hop on your machine for a quick workout to get your blood flowing and your brain focused. 

Check out our Best Buys page for some tips on what types of elliptical machine will work best with your goals and budget.  If you need more guidance, be sure to check out our Buyer’s Guide and other articles that talk about the pros and cons of certain brands.

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