Prescription: Exercise

Dear Petrus Psychology, Is exercise important for people who have ADHD?

Significant changes take place in the brain during physical activity.  Afternoon sluggishness can often be treated with a quick jog around the neighborhood.  During exercise, the brain’s dopamine and serotonin levels are increased.  These levels are responsible for gains in alertness, attention, motor and cognitive performance.

For children and adults with ADHD, exercise is one of the most powerful prescribed medications.  Exercise firms up the executive functioning center of the brain- the center responsible for taking in and processing information, storing it into memory, slowing down impulsivity, and allowing us to focus when we need it most.  In some schools, children with ADHD are encouraged to take ten-minute exercise breaks as an alternative to seated time-outs.  This allows them time to increase the cortical pathways that promote sustained focus.

Aside from the increase in brain activity, exercise grants children with behavioral disorders something they often seek out: a sense of personal accomplishment.  Exercise provides the added benefit of giving children something attainable.  Most physical activity has a beginning and an end, which can lead to a sense of personal satisfaction and self-worth.  Whether it is bike riding, a game of kickball, or a basketball game of “around the world,” exercise provides positive treatment benefits for individuals with ADHD.

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