Exercise is Good For an ADHD Brain

Many people with adult ADHD find it hard to stick to a physical exercise routine. However, experts say it’s essential. Exercising, after all, doesn’t just improve physical health, but also brain health. How does exercise improve our ADHD symptoms? Find out here. 

Table of Contents

ADHD & Exercise: How Is It Affected?

1. Exercise Is Not Just For The Body, It’s Also For The Mind

2. ADHD And The Brain Chemical Production

3. Why We Need These Chemicals For Our ADHD Brain

4. ADHD Struggles And Challenges In Doing Physical Exercise

5. The Benefits Of Exercise On Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

6. What Physical Activity Is Suited For My ADHD Brain?

7. If ADHD and Exercise Don't Mix Well...

ADHD & Exercise FAQs

Exercise Is Not Just For The Body, It’s Also For The Mind

we often hear that exercise is good for ADHD brains...

Physical health and mental health should come together and be maintained regularly for an individual to function well. 

Sometimes, people only focus on their physicality, leaving their mental health behind. However, this practice isn't recommended, as your mental health is just as important

Even though we tend to be strong physically and have perfected our exercise regimen over time, if our mental soundness isn't that tough, we might crumble at the simplest stress and problems that come along the way.

Of course, there are numerous ways to make sure that your physical and mental health are at optimal levels. One of them is through exercise.

The thing is, for many people with ADHD, exercising can sometimes be a  challenge 🥺 because of the mental hyperactivity and distractibility of our ADHD brains. To better understand how exercise is affected by ADHD, it is essential first to comprehend ADHD itself.

ADHD And The Brain Chemical Production

It's because exercise can have a positive impact on some chemicals in our brain

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodivergent disorder commonly diagnosed in childhood. It is often characterized by having a hard time focusing, being easily distracted, making impulsive decisions, and for some, hyperactivity. The symptoms usually vary from person to person, so don’t be surprised if two people with ADHD experience the disorder differently. 😉

Research suggests imbalances of the chemicals in the brain may contribute to ADHD. The primary neurotransmitters that are said to be imbalanced are dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is responsible for focus, motivation, and pleasure, while norepinephrine helps focus, alertness, and blood pressure. 

Our system produces these two brain chemicals through various activities. Dopamine, better known as the "happy hormone," can be created when we do things we love and make us feel good. On the other hand, norepinephrine is produced as a response to stress. Our brain gets us ready to "fight or flight" with the help of this chemical.

Physical activities, such as workouts or sports (i.e. martial arts, basketball, etc.) help produce dopamine and norepinephrine, giving us physiological benefits that help both our physical and mental health. 💪

Why We Need These Chemicals For Our ADHD Brain

some specialists think that these chemicals play a part in what makes ADHD brains different

As mentioned earlier, there’s a link between ADHD and the neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. The deficiency in these chemicals might make us manifest ADHD symptoms more and affect our mental health. That's why it’s crucial to perform activities that can supply these chemicals. 👌

Interestingly, you can experience dopamine hit with one of the most common ADHD symptoms: impulse buying. Some people with ADHD, particularly those who are under the Hyperactive-Impulsive type, might see things, find them appealing, and purchase them without second thoughts. The excitement and happiness 🥰 when buying something that sparks interest can trigger dopamine production or “dopamine rush”.

Another source of dopamine and norepinephrine is eating foods that we love 🍲 or those that naturally release them, like dark chocolates and protein-rich sources. The same goes for the excitement that we feel when we play video games or take part in activities we enjoy.

The bottom line is, mental health experts and wellness professionals indicate that exercising isn't just beneficial for our physical fitness - it is likewise great for our ADHD brain. 

ADHD Struggles And Challenges In Doing Physical Exercise

but exercising can also be challenging for people with ADHD

As previously discussed, our ADHD brain's production of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine can significantly affect our executive functioning

The executive functions include our working memory, self-control, and flexible thinking. If you notice, these functions play a crucial role in maintaining a good hobby or finishing a routine, such as physical workout. 

Reports suggest that some people with ADHD struggle in doing exercises and maintaining a healthy weight. 😭 Here are some factors that can affect our ability to do physical activities:

  • Time Management and Difficulty Planning - they say the most challenging part in building a routine is our willingness to take the first step. When we think of doing physical exercise, we might struggle with our schedule and deadlines. That means we find it difficult to squeeze in working out in our day or week. 
  • Sensory Overload - Another thing that can make it hard for us to perform regular exercise is the gym setting itself. The loud sounds and clanking of the metal equipment can irritate us. If you also experience sensory overload, 😵 check the gym first: if there are too many people, you might as well find another place to workout
  • Struggle in Following Instructions - Vigorous exercise and training can involve complicated instructions. The same goes with organized sports and other sports disciplines. ⛹🏼‍♂️ The rules we need to remember and follow can discourage us from engaging in the activity.
  • Routine and Getting Bored Easily - It is not unheard of for us to get bored with something that is too repetitive, like exercising. Once we feel like we are not seeing any progress, our motivation might start to drop, and eventually, we stop working out. 😅 The risk of getting bored might increase for some people with ADHD, considering we can be easily distracted.
  • Low Self-Esteem - As much as we want to stay fit and look good, there are moments when we feel like we can't achieve our desired physical appearance. This struggle is more common in women, but also exists in men. Also, this doesn't just apply to our physical appearance but also to how we see ourselves doing the exercises. We tend to think that we are not good enough or are not doing the exercises correctly.

To lighten up the mood, it's not always dark clouds and struggles regarding ADHD and exercise. 😘 When you get past these obstacles and successfully do a physical activity, it can be gratifying for your body, mind and soul.

The Benefits Of Exercise On Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Aside from gaining the brain chemicals that an adult with ADHD might lack, there are other benefits to exercise.

First, exercising is a good way to spend the energy we have during our “hyperactivity.” You can try team sports and do coordinated movements with other people.

Or you can go solo and try aerobic exercise, like running, jogging, or swimming 🏊‍♀️. It would be best if you could try a mix of both. That way you can  have social interaction from time to time and get good workout sessions.

Here are some of the benefits of performing physical activity:

  • Manageable ADHD Symptoms - Since through exercise, we can increase our dopamine and norepinephrine levels, we might be able to manage our ADHD symptoms better. With regular exercise, perhaps we can now focus on the task at hand and be less impulsive in our actions. This is an excellent benefit for people struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder because it will help them cope with their daily struggles and be more productive.
  • Alertness and Improved Concentration - Doing physical activities can have cognitive benefits for us as well. Exercise can enhance cognitive functions such as attention span, strategic flexibility, logic, and reasoning.
  • Better Sleep - Some people with ADHD often have trouble sleeping or have irregular sleeping patterns.😴 Lack of sleep can worsen the symptoms of ADHD, and it can also lead to other problems, such as anxiety and depression. Exercise can help regulate your sleeping pattern and promote deep sleep.
  • Mood Regulation - Many people with ADHD struggle with emotional dysregulation and experience mood swings. Exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins to improve mood and lessen the risk of mental health problems.
  • Generally Sound Well-Being - Aside from the mental soundness that physical activities may bring, good physical health is one of the main beneficial effects of doing exercises. Through physical activity, we can strengthen our bones, muscles, and organs (lungs and heart), and even improve circulation.

Health conditions generally improve because of regular physical activity. We can reduce the risk of having severe illnesses, such as obesity, heart diseases, stroke, and cancer. 

What Physical Activity Is Suited For My ADHD Brain?

You can try different exercises to choose the right ones for you. However, please note that sustaining regular physical activity is essential. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and exercise can be a handful, but if we try to look on the bright side and focus on the benefits that we can achieve, we can find the motivation to do them.

To help you think about the right physical exercise, it's essential that you think about what’s enjoyable for you. Doing something that you are interested in would play a significant role in maintaining the habit. Additionally, you must consider the location of the activity, the time, and the company.

Physical exercise increases our norepinephrine and dopamine levels and can help improve our ADHD symptoms. There are several exercises that you can do depending on your aim. Consider the following:

  • Aerobic Exercise - Brisk walking, swimming, or biking 🚴 are just some of the most common examples of aerobic exercise. 
  • Team Sports & Ball Sports - These include tennis, 🎾basketball, volleyball, football, or soccer. They can likewise improve coordination. 
  • Resistance Training, Weight Lifting & Body Building - These use sets of exercises to increase muscle mass, endurance, and strength
  • Mind-Body Exercises - such as yoga, qigong, and tai chi to improve focus, concentration, and balance 🧘
  • Martial Arts - People who like to have more physical activity and discipline might want to try martial arts. Note that there are many forms of martial arts, so there’s less risk of finding it boring. 

Whether you want to join gymnastics, focus on aerobic exercise, or  do simple yoga sessions, it all boils down to your interest and what you are willing to do to improve your Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. 

Generally, people - including those with adult ADHD - should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day to see significant improvements.

You can start slow by doing 10-minute increments and eventually work your way up to the goal of 30 minutes per day. It would be best to gradually increase the intensity of your exercises as you get used to them and notice the effects of exercise on your body. 

To be successful in our plans, we have to manage the settings of our ADHD brain and physicality and remember to have moderate-intensity exercise to prevent burnout from happening.

The general population may have little to no difficulty with physical exercises and doesn't have trouble maintaining their interest in them. But for some people with ADHD we tend to have a more challenging time when it comes to sticking to an exercise program. The novelty of working out usually wears off quickly, and we are left struggling to find the motivation to continue.

If ADHD and Exercise Don't Mix Well...

If you are worried about your physical health to the extent that it affects your brain health (or vice versa), and you cannot make peace with the executive functions needed to start doing exercise, there are other things that you can do.

Some of the things we can do to make up for the lack of exercise are:

  • Taking short walks often throughout the day
  • Using a standing desk or treadmill desk
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Parking your car at the farthest spot in the parking lot (that way, you’ll be forced to walk) 

These simple activities can give you the results you want, though you may have to do them frequently to cover the 30-minutes per day goal. But, in any case, that the struggle persists, you can consult your healthcare professional for additional tips on incorporating regular exercise into your daily routine

You may also use available Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medication from your doctor to help with the impulsivity and focus issues to better stick to an exercise routine.

As long as your interest in doing exercise is there, you can try out different things and eventually find something that works for you. Be patient with yourself, and don't be discouraged if it takes some time before you finally find an activity that helps alleviate your ADHD symptoms. Just keep moving forward, one step at a time.❤️

the key is to do something you genuinely enjoy

ADHD and Exercise: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

 

1.  Why is exercising important for people with ADHD? 


Exercising is important for everyone, whether or not they have ADHD. However, there’s a link between ADHD and low levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. The good news is, exercise can increase these two chemicals and might help better manage the symptoms of ADHD. 


2. What ADHD symptoms affect our ability to stick to an exercise routine? 


Several ADHD symptoms can make exercising difficult. They include difficulty in planning, being easily distracted, and difficulty in following instructions. 

3. How do you choose the best ADHD exercise? 


To be absolutely sure about your choice of workout, you can consult a healthcare expert. This is particularly important if you have an underlying health condition (other than ADHD). But, you can start with exercises or activities that interest you. 

Table of Contents

ADHD & Exercise: How Is It Affected?

1. Exercise Is Not Just For The Body, It’s Also For The Mind

2. ADHD And The Brain Chemical Production

3. Why We Need These Chemicals For Our ADHD Brain

4. ADHD Struggles And Challenges In Doing Physical Exercise

5. The Benefits Of Exercise On Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

6. What Physical Activity Is Suited For My ADHD Brain?

7. If ADHD and Exercise Don't Mix Well...

ADHD & Exercise FAQs

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it’s best to see a professional for a diagnosis.

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I created The Mini ADHD Coach in august 2020 when I was just diagnosed with ADHD at 29. After years of questioning, therapy, burnouts and chaotic career path changes I finally understood why I was struggling with so many things. So I decided to share what I learned to raise awareness around ADHD and help the ADHD community thrive.

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