Exercise as Medicine for the ADD and ADHD Communities

October is ADHD Awareness Month.  As many of you know, I have ADD and created Fitness for Health because I wanted to help children faced with the same challenges and assist them in achieving their maximize potential via physical fitness.

One ADD/ADHD treatment that doesn’t require a prescription or a visit to a physician’s office is exercise.  Research is finding that participating in a regular fitness routine can improve cognitive ability.

“Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention,” writes John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (Little, Brown).  “On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”

Exercise is essential for everyone – especially people with ADD and ADHD.  Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and, in the process, stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotropic factors (BDNF) which promote the growth of new brain cells (neurons).  When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which helps with attention and clear thinking. People with ADD and ADHD often have less dopamine than usual in their brains.  Therefore, exercise is a vital component of treatment for ADD and ADHD and is something that makes it easier to sustain mental focus for extended periods of time.

Research has shown that innovative and creative approaches to fitness have helped kids – and adults – of all ages and abilities enjoy the benefits of physical activity.  In my nearly 30 years of experience as a Certified Athletic Trainer and as a person with ADD, I suggest these fitness tips:

  • Set aside a specific time each day for fitness. If you know that you or your child has extra energy in the late afternoon, plan to workout at 5pm each day.  This will allow the person an opportunity to unwind from a hectic day and better regulate energy needed to complete homework, cook dinner or plan for the next day.  By organizing your fitness routine, you can help yourself stay on task and better manage your time.
  • Exercise every day. Exercise will help increase blood flow and release endorphins that will boost your mood and help clear your mind.
  • Choose an activity that is vigorous and fun. If you look forward to working out, you are more likely to stick to your fitness routine.  Join a team sport or schedule walks with a neighbor.  Plan a family fun night where one night each week is designated for Wii games, dance contests, sledding or any activity that gets your family moving.  By exercising as a family, you not only have the opportunity to bond but also create lifelong memories.
  • Take advantage of fitness technology. Do you stress over documenting your fitness milestones?  Try Google’s “My Tracks.”  My Tracks activates location data from GPS, cellular tower data and Wi-Fi to automatically record your speed, distance and path when you walk, run, bike or do any outdoor activity. To ensure you stay on task, you can view your data live and hear “periodic voice announcements of your progress.”
  • Add meditation to your fitness routine. In addition to relieving stress, yoga or tai chi can help you focus your attention and improve impulse control.

If you or a loved one have ADD or ADHD, the daily demands of school, work and family can seem overwhelming. But, by using exercise as a “medicine,” you can become more organized, better able to concentrate and use your newfound focus to tackle new challenges.

To learn how Fitness for Health helps children and adults with special and/or behavioral difficulties improve their cognitive abilities through exercise, call us at 301-231-7138 to schedule a free tour of our facility.

About Fitness for Health:

Fitness for Health has been recognized as Washington Family Magazine’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 Best Special Needs Program and Best Special Needs Camp in the DC Area and a finalist for About.com’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Special Needs Resource in the D.C. Region.  At Fitness for Health, you get a complete team—including fitness specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists—working together to create a full-service plan of care that’s expertly tailored to you or your child’s developmental, skill and comfort levels while using cutting-edge, exergaming technology. As a parent, you’re involved every step of the way.

Areas of improvement may include:

  • Functional movement / play skills
  • Gross motor function and coordination
  • Crossing the midline
  • Mental processing
  • Motor planning and motor sequencing
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Locomotor skills
  • Visual motor/perceptual motor skills
  • Proprioception and balance
  • Age-appropriate social skills

Most of Fitness for Health’s exergaming equipment tracks results as they happen, so your child can gain the confidence that comes from seeing his or her performance improve over time. Learn more about our Success Builds Success approach.