What is the importance of exercise for people with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a very common mental health condition.

While conventional treatment involves the use of medication and therapy to manage behavior, newer approaches emphasize the importance of regular exercise.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a chronic condition that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

It is common for ADHD to be associated with children, since it is usually diagnosed during childhood and its symptoms may decrease with age, however, it is estimated that it also has a significant prevalence among adults (between 2 and 4%). It is also more common in men than in women.

ADHD can be broadly divided into three subtypes:

  • Predominant inattentionCharacterized by inability to pay close attention to detail, making careless mistakes, trouble staying focused, difficulty following instructions, or organizing tasks and activities, being easily distracted, or forgetting daily tasks or items needed to perform them.
  • Predominant hyperactive/impulsive behavior: Characterized by restlessness or the need to be in constant motion, pulling too much, having trouble doing quiet activities, interrupting or giving hasty responses, or having difficulty taking turns.
  • combined: It is characterized by mixing symptoms of the types of ADHD previously developed.

Although the cause of ADHD is not clear, experts emphasize that it has a significant genetic component, however, it can also be caused by environmental factors, such as premature birth, low birth weight, brain injuries or alcohol or tobacco use during pregnancy. .

Conventional treatment for ADHD includes the use of medications or therapies, both of which are intended to reduce symptoms but not cure the condition.

  • Should children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) be medicated?

Among the drugs, the use of dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin, others), dexmethylphenidate (Focalin), atomoxetine (Strattera), bupropion ( Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin X), guanfacine (Intuniv), or clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay).

Health professionals may also recommend behavior management therapies, such as behavioral psychotherapy, social skills training, or family therapy.

Benefits of exercise for mental health

Exercise, along with a healthy diet, proper sleep and regular medical check-ups, are the cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle.

Frequent physical activity can bring many physical health benefits, such as helping to control weight, protect the heart and lungs, or prevent various diseases, such as diabetes.

However, researchers are also focusing on the positive impact it can have on mental health:

  • promotes learning: because exercise stimulates brain plasticity, that is, the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to internal or external stimuli.
  • improve memory: because exercise promotes blood flow to the brain.
  • Improves mood: because, after exercising, chemicals that promote a state of well-being are released, such as endorphins and endocannabinoids
  • Prevents or delays the onset of certain brain diseases: Regular exercise is linked to a reduction in cognitive decline, which represents a lower risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

exercise and ADHD

In recent years, different investigations have also focused on studying how exercise can benefit specific population groups, for example, people with ADHD. The available evidence is promising and highlights many aspects.

A work published in Pediatrics found, after assigning more than 200 children to an after-school physical activity program, improvements in children’s cognition and brain health.

Another work, published in Frontiers in Human Neurosciencenoted that there is a link between the total amount of daily exercise performed and levels of executive function.

Executive functions are a group of skills controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain, including paying attention, organizing, planning, or remembering details. Normally, these functions are often affected in people with ADHD.

Regular exercise can also increase dopamine levels in the brain, which is particularly beneficial for people with ADHD, as their levels of this neurotransmitter are typically slightly lower than the general population.

There is even evidence, such as the work published in Pls One, showing that aerobic exercise can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is a brain molecule involved in learning and memory, and some studies suggest it may play a role in causing ADHD.

While studies linking exercise to decreased ADHD symptoms are promising, practitioners caution that more evidence is still needed to support its use.

However, it never hurts for children or adults to engage in daily physical activity, and it can even be used to combat other conditions, such as being overweight or obese, cardiovascular or pulmonary problems, and stress or depression.

Experts point out that the best options for children may be to go for bike rides, play sports such as soccer, basketball, hockey or tennis, or jump rope. While adults can benefit from aerobic exercise.

Unlike anaerobic exercise, which involves engaging in high-intensity activities for short periods of time, aerobic or “cardio” exercise is characterized by engaging in light- or moderate-intensity activities for long periods of time, such as walking, running, swimming, or Participate in aerobic classes, such as kickboxing or Zumba.

Sources consulted: American Psychological Association, US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Mental Health.