The brains of those with ADHD have been proven to be short of the neurotransmitter chemicals that affect focus and attention, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
In addition to medications that stimulate the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls executive functions such as impulse control and memory – exercise is another proven way to release the brain chemicals in which those with ADHD neurology are deficient.
This means that while exercise is a wonderful mood enhancer with benefits for all who participate, physical activity is especially important for those with ADHD, as the brain chemicals it produces can give them the ability to manage behavior, remember things and pay attention.
In short: Exercise is good for everybody, but it can be a total game-changer for an ADHD-brained child, allowing them to excel at life, with a happier outlook and higher self-esteem.
But it can be hard to get kids who have difficulty staying on-task to play team sports, as the commotion of teammates and crowds can be distracting. Types of exercise proven to be beneficial for kids with atypical neurology or sensory issues are recommended below.
1. Martial Arts—
This is one of the best exercises for children who are hyperactive and lose focus easily, because one of the main aspects of this training is self-discipline and self-awareness, both challenging qualities for children with ADHD.
No matter which version of martial arts you choose to pursue, your child will be expected to stand quietly and at attention, which trains them to listen and pay attention. The atmosphere of a martial arts dojo is generally one of respect, rather than chaos, which will eliminate many distractions.
Children with ADHD often have trouble with coordination and balance, which can make team sports difficult for them. But in martial arts, kids learn to kick while balancing on the other leg, and learn martial arts forms, a series of precise movements that can vastly improve their dexterity.
Less structured than martial arts, but requiring just as much discipline, are gymnastic exercises. With the added benefit of being slightly more physical than martial arts, these intricate movements also help burn off the nervous energy that can make kids with ADHD feel restless and fidgety inside.
Gymnastics also help with balance and agility, requiring concentration for proper form and allowing gymnasts the chance to run, jump, flip, tumble and otherwise make great use of the seemingly endless amounts of energy possessed by kids with this brain type.
Gymnastics can also give children the chance to be a part of a team without the anxiety-inducing disorder that can sometimes accompany team sports involving player contact.
3. Walking or Running—
Some people with ADHD find that walking or running can be a great way to release positive endorphins and add missing brain chemicals when done consistently, sometimes reporting they are able to skip their ADHD medications (that do the same thing) because of this physiological benefit.
Even 30 minutes of walking or running 4 times a week has been shown to deliver noticeable benefits. There is also evidence that nature has a soothing effect on kids with ADHD that can help them concentrate, so if you can find a park nature trail on which to hike, even better.
Riding a bike is a great way to get children some exercise, fresh air and help them work on improving the balance skills with which ADHD kids can sometimes struggle.
Biking is also a great family exercise because even those with knee or joint issues will find it to be very gentle, and it can be done by most people, including fitness beginners.
If your child is at a higher energy level than the rest of the family, send them racing ahead to a goal, with the challenge to then race back before you reach a certain spot in the trail. This will give them extra exercise while keeping them mentally stimulated.
Some parents of children with ADHD neurology find that hyperactive aerobic exercises like cardio can have the undesirable effect of “revving up” their kids, making them become agitated, out of control, and harder to calm down afterward than usual.
Often sensory issues can coexist with ADHD, such as being bothered by sudden or loud sounds, and fast, manic forms of exercise can cause anxiety rather than working the nervous energy out of the system. For these types of kids, yoga is a wonderfully soothing exercise.
Yoga strengthens and works muscles in a mellow, peaceful and mindful manner, improving concentration and delivering positive endorphins without the stress of more hectic activities.
Studies have shown that kids with ADHD who get regular exercise are less likely to be disruptive at school, and are better at planning or thinking ahead and organizing than kids who don’t exercise.
Exercise is also proven to give all brains a boost of the neurotransmitters that help us pay attention, stay alert and focused, and most importantly, feel good. For this reason, children with brains that have trouble receiving dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin need exercise more than anyone. If you or your child have ADHD, consider giving one of the above exercises a try, and see if it helps.