Diana Nyad’s successful attempt at swimming the Florida Straits, to Key West, FL, from Cuba on Sept. 2, 2013, is the ultimate demonstration of how exercise can help you reach your goals, and those with ADHD in particular should take note. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can help with mood and focus, in particular, two issues with which those with ADHD struggle.
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, affects both children and adults. It’s primary symptoms are carelessness, impulsivity, having a lack of focus, being easily distracted, having difficulty with organization and being excessively restless.
John Ratey, M.D., a forefather in the world of treating patients with ADD, champions exercise as a possible alternative to ADHD medications, His book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, addresses such issues. Exercise helps push kids with ADHD through prior failures and re-attempt things at which they had failed before, Ratey said in an interview published in ADDitude magazine. Studies have shown that exercise reduces learned helplessness, Ratey said.
Endorphins, which regulate mood, pleasure and pain, are released when one exercises. Brain chemicals that control focus and attention, namely dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, are also elevated when exercising. Increased dopamine levels reduces the constant need for new stimuli and increases alertness, enabling a person to be more consistent, Ratey said.
One does not need to be a Diana Nyad, however, to benefit from exercise. Moderate activity, such as walking several days a week, or getting involved in social exercise such as basketball or soccer, is plenty to stimulate the brain. Gymnastics, for example, requires one to pay close attention to body movements, which requires attention and focus, Ratey said. And instead of time-outs, some schools are giving students time-ins, or 10-minutes of activity as opposed to spending an equal amount of time sitting still.