Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD for short, or casually called ADD) can be partially relieved by simply exercising. Most people know that exercise is good for their bodies and can make you feel good, but few people know that exercise actually activates the same pathways in the brain as stimulant medications.
Stimulant medications for ADHD target dopamine and norepinephrine, two very important chemicals in the brain for regulating attention. Fortunately, exercise naturally increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, making it a very important part of treatment for adults and children with ADHD. The effect that exercise has on increasing dopamine and norepinephrine is immediate, but must happen regularly to provide maximum benefit.
The second reason is that exercise, especially complex movements like Karate or Soccer, increases activity in the cerebellum. The cerebellum is paramount in controlling the flow of information in the brain. Adults and children with ADHD tend to have smaller cerebellums, which compound attention struggles. In other words, by exercising regularly individuals with ADHD are providing themselves with a double whammy of positive neurological and physiological benefit.
This brief article is not a call to stop taking ADHD medications, rather it is a call for doctors and patients to take an active role in doing everything possible to treat ADHD. The body of evidence supporting the combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the treatment of ADHD is extensive and widely accepted. It’s time we give the same credence to the value of exercise in the treatment of ADHD.
Phil Boissiere, MFT specializes in the treatment of ADHD in adults and couples in San Francisco, Menlo Park, and the Silicon Valley. He is available for interviews and article contributions on the topics of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Adult ADHD, Group Psychotherapy, or Teen Drug Prevention.