How Does Exercise Help Ease ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a condition that can make it difficult to pay attention, finish projects, and maintain a stable emotional threshold. Those who struggle with ADHD often have trouble keeping relationships and places of employment. Furthermore, people living with ADHD are prone to anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions that can complicate and compound their symptoms.

ADHD is frequently associated with younger children struggling to maintain focus in school and their daily activities. ADHD can be difficult to manage, especially for those who received their ADHD diagnosis online at an older age. However, recently, as mental health has become a popular topic of discussion, more adults are seeking diagnosis and treatment to fill in the gaps they may have noticed growing up. As they learn more about their new diagnosis, so too are they learning how to live it.

Research has found that exercise, while providing a host of physical benefits, greatly impacts the brain. Besides promoting a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, exercise helps prime and condition the body’s physiological responses, preparing and even shielding people with ADHD from their worst symptoms.

How Does It Help Combat ADHD?

When you exercise, blood flow increases to the brain, releasing neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin, two naturally-occurring substances that provide clear thinking. People with ADHD often have less dopamine than people without the condition, which is why stimulant medications like Vyvanse and Adderall help increase this neurochemical.

Exercise improves memory by increasing molecular targets like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps increase synaptogenesis, the forming of new synapses that manage learning and memory, making your brain much more efficient at storing information and memories.  

While exercise does not decrease stress hormones, it does reduce the number of stress receptors in the hippocampus, minimizing the effect of stress hormones on the brain. This is good news for people with ADHD. Stressful events can feel much more overwhelming for people with ADHD. 

Other benefits of exercise for adults with ADHD include:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Enhanced memory
  • Enhanced executive function (i.e., the skills necessary to plan and organize)
  • Improved impulse control
  • Increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (i.e., a protein involved in learning and memory–people with ADHD have very little of it present)

Medical researchers have concluded that at least 150 minutes of exercise a week (moderate intensity) is needed to maintain peak physical health. That’s about 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week.

To start, fit one healthy activity a day into your current routine. If you drive somewhere local, try walking instead. The point is to make the exercise as simple as possible until it becomes a learned habit. If you are interested in more intense exercises like sprinting or weight lifting, 75 minutes of exercise a week will keep you in shape.

No matter your current level of fitness, and despite the current therapies you’re already engaged in, exercise makes a great addition to your ADHD preventative routine.

About the Author

Roni Davis is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.

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