Exercise and the ADHD Child

Just as the human body is designed to be active, the brain also needs activity (physical not just mental activity).  Exercise can boost learning power and relieve ADHD symptoms three different ways.

  1. First, exercise can improve attention span, alertness, and motivation, thus optimizing our productivity and overall mindset.  How? It does this by boosting the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which regulates the signaling processes of the brain.
  2. Second, exercise  aids the cellular basis of learning.  It helps neurons bind to each other – making new connections.
  3. It also triggers the development of new nerve cells (neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, the region of the brain that handles learning and memory.

Science class previously taught us that once the brain fully develops during our adolescent years, we’re left with all the neurons we’re ever going to need in our lives and can only lose them as we grow older. However, new research shows that neurons can grow back through neurogenesis, a process where they divide and multiply like other cells in the body. Thousands of neurons can get born at once, but most of them die out because they fail to find a network to get plugged in. Exercise can trigger the creation of these new neurons, and provide the stimulation they need for them to survive.

So what are the best forms of exercise you can do to help your child’s ADHD brain? Here are some suggestions.

Aerobic activities

Set aside 30 minutes a day to jog, ride a bike, or play a sport that involves running or sprinting. These aerobic exercises boost neurotransmitter production, new cell growth in the brain, and blood vessel development. A small study done in Japan discovered that half an hour of jogging just twice a week for 3 months can improve the brain’s executive function. If your child doesn’t have time to exercise daily, make time for a good workout at least two times a week.

Skilled physical activities

Get your family together to do a skilled physical activity like skiing, martial arts or rock climbing. Complex activities like these improve the formation of synaptic networks in the brain – the more intricate the movements, the better. The new synaptic networks formed will help you learn and think more effectively.

Do both activities

Hit two birds with one stone and do a physical activity that combines aerobic challenges and physical skill development simultaneously.  Good examples of this are tennis and gymnastics.

Play with a partner

Motivate your child to get regular exercise by doing a skilled activity that requires a partner to play, such as fencing. This enables your child to learn complex new moves while adjusting to another person’s movements, demanding the brain to stay attentive and focused.

By Dr. Yannick Pauli

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