May 16, 2017

ADHD and Exercise: How Physical Activity Can Improve Your Child’s Mood and Increase Attention

Written by Rachel Eddins

Father exercising with his child to cope with ADHD

Your child has ADHD. I’m sure you understand that treatment is important.

Perhaps you’re already handling symptoms with prescription medication, dietary supplements, or child therapy. Yet, you wonder if you can personally do more for your child to help them manage their moods and attention. Something low-cost that you can implement easily and regularly at home.

Have you tried exercise?

We’re not talking about mental exercise via some new and exciting video game that effortlessly enforces your child’s attention span and boosts their happiness. (That would be cool, but certainly not cheap!) We’re talking about something much more mundane — good old-fashioned physical exercise.

For your child, combining treatment for ADHD and exercise can add a critical instrument to your toolbox. In fact, research has shown that physical activity can effect powerful changes in the brain that improve mood and increase attention.

The best thing: it’s cheap and you don’t need a prescription!

Benefits of ADHD and Exercise: The Science Behind Brain Performance

Regular physical exercise not only builds up the body but also the brain. It switches on the brain’s attention system — the section that manages body functions, like working memory, arranging and prioritizing input, processing information, and curbing impulses.

How does it work?

During physical exercise — especially aerobic activities — your child’s brain releases various important neurochemicals. In fact, these are the same neurotransmitters that stimulant medication for ADHD targets:

  • Dopamine – Increases the ability of the brain’s attention system to be orderly and balanced. Improves planning, reasoning, and problem-solving. (Often, children with ADHD have less dopamine in their brain than other children.)
  • Endorphins – Increases alertness and improves mental functions. Helps regulate mood, pain, and pleasure.
  • Serotonin and Norepinephrine – Affect focus and attention.

Plus, exercise expands blood vessels and increases blood flow to the brain. (Many children with ADHD have a below-average blood flow.) More blood to the brain, in turn, improves thinking ability and enhances brain structure.

For all these reasons, therefore, physical activity will immediately make your child more awake, focused, and alert, resulting in decreased impulsiveness and enhanced learning ability.

How Much and What Exercise is Most Beneficial?

To help your child benefit from combining treatment for ADHD and exercise, you don’t have to go to extremes. Twenty to thirty minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, four times a week, is sufficient to reap benefits.

For example:

  • Encourage your child to walk (perhaps with the family dog), ride their bike, shoot hoops, skateboard, dance to music, jump rope, play hopscotch, or do jumping jacks.
  • Involve them in wrestling with you, a clean-up race in your home, bashing bubbles, playing catch with balloons, or chasing each other around for a tickle tag.
  • Engage them in team activities or exercises where the social component can have added benefits, like baseball, soccer, or cheerleading.
  • Have them participate in activities that challenge their attention because they require focusing on body movements, such as ballet or gymnastics.
  • Take them out to a special activity place now and then (the Houston area has several fun places for children to get physical exercise, like My Gym or Sky High Sports).

The most crucial part is that you — the parent — must make an effort to find ways to keep your child active. Whatever exercise they’re involved in, encourage them to participate as fully as possible. That also includes physical activity at school, such as P.E. and recess, and allowing your child to exercise before tackling their homework.

There’s no question, exercise is good for body and mind. In fact, it’s like medication, particularly for a child with ADHD. When you combine their treatment for ADHD and exercise, it can absolutely help improve their mood and increase their attention.

And as your child sees that they can learn to manage and regulate those things through their physical activities, you may also see improvements in their academic performance. Benefits all around!

If you would like to learn more about tools for coping with ADHD visit our ADHD page. And when you feel ready, click here to schedule an appointment online or call us at 832-559-2622 with one of our Houston counselors. We would love to help guide you on your journey.

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