I know the first question you are going to ask me. Is there any evidence at all that exercise for ADHD kids can benefit them in any way? You probably think that ADHD medication is more than enough, so why bother with an ADHD exercise plan?
The answer is that there is overwhelming evidence from exercise and ADHD studies to show that there are indeed enormous benefits. So, read on and find out about them and also I will show you how you can get an exercise routine in place without too much trouble.
Exercise and ADHD Studies
Dr. John Ratey is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and he has written a book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain. He outlines the studies that show exercise helps ADHD kids to focus better, improve social skills and maintain better levels of attention.
“On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”- Dr. John Ratey.
No, aerobic physical activity will not replace ADHD medication but is now viewed by most experts as a complementary way to make those meds much more effective. Why miss out when exercise for ADHD kids has enormous benefits in the long-term
Any other studies, you might ask? Here is one published in the Pediatrics Journal. Researchers noted that kids (regardless of whether they had ADHD or not) benefited from better executive control. This helped them to perform reading and math tests more efficiently.
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that when ADHD kids were allowed to train on a treadmill, they did better on test scores afterward. They were compared to another group who were told to sit down and play a game.
Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at 800 kids and followed them from the age of six to ten. Those who had done exercise regularly were less likely to suffer from depression in their teens.
What is the takeaway from all this research?
As a complementary type of treatment, exercise for ADHD kids does not involve any doctor’s visits, no check-ups, no expensive fees and above all no side effects.
Some people like to think of exercise as a type of trigger which kicks the brain into action and can help kids follow instructions, prioritize and also help them focus better. These will help them in all aspects of coping with daily life tasks and also academically.
Another great benefit is that ADHD kids will sleep better after exercise and their quality of sleep is improved. As we know, the stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall which are widely prescribed often interfere with sleep. Exercise, as reported by the National Sleep Foundation, can help resolve that problem.
Sleep problems can occur in up to 25% -50% of children with ADHD and they are not always caused by ADHD medication as outlined in the research paper here.
If you need a quick guide to facts about ADHD children, you can buy the book here
7 ways to fit exercise for ADHD kids easily into their routine
Start at home with your ADHD exercise routine
We used to walk or cycle to school. Very few kids do that nowadays, for various reasons. When it is possible, we should be encouraging them to do that. If there are safety or traffic issues, then walking the dog, or skipping, running, or jumping and using the trampoline are all valid ways to get them moving before they leave the house. There are lots of games and exercise for ADHD kids. You can download a useful chart called The Exercise Prescription from CHADD here.
We just need to remember that about 30 – 60 minutes of physical activity every day can help to reduce the symptoms of ADHD. We can plan that for before or after school to make sure they are getting a daily dose.
Get your school involved
Find out if your kids’ school is involved in the BOKS project. A group of moms led by Kathleen Tullie founded BOKS (Build Our Kids Success). This project is also supported by Dr. John Ratey and other experts who are putting all the research into practice. Visit their site and see how they set up warm-up activities and other games while getting kids to move before they begin class. To date, over 1,200 schools in 48 states are taking part in this initiative.
Most experts are now recommending that kids with ADHD can be allowed to squirm, swing legs fidget or jiggle around as much as they like when they are in class or when doing homework. Some schools have stability balls so that students can bounce around. That is why it is a good reason to buy a stability ball for homework.
The theory is that the child with ADHD has a brain which needs to be aroused. Physical activity can kick start it so that brain chemicals are released. The result is that the brain functions better. Is there any evidence that this is what is happening when we start an exercise for ADHD kids program?
The University of California conducted an experiment where kids with ADHD were allowed to fidget and recorded them by using an ankle monitor. Researchers found that when they fidgeted, they had better results in tests and they were better able to focus. An interesting aspect was that test results improved when the movements the kids made were more vigorous and not how often they made them.
“Parents and teachers shouldn’t try to keep them still. Let them move while they are doing their work or other challenging cognitive tasks.” — Professor Julie Schweitzer, Director of UC Davis ADHD Program.
Choose sports your child really likes
There are loads of sports to choose from but not all of them are actually suitable for a child with ADHD. Especially your child. You need to find out what appeals to them and whether they are really keen on swimming, karate or other martial arts. Team sports have their pros and cons. there are lots of opportunities for interacting socially and learning to get on with peers and so on.
“Sports offer lots of social interaction in addition to physical fitness,” Dr. Jay Salpekar WebMD.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you start your child on sports.
- Check out the coach. Ask him/her what he knows about ADHD and how punishments like doing extra laps for not staying focused are just not on!
- Martial arts are very popular because they are very structured and it is a very much step-by-step approach. This can really appeal to children with ADHD. The rituals also involved helping them to stay focused. We all know about having a great routine and sticking to it!
- Wrestling may be a lifesaver when your kid feels aggressive and hyperactive and needs a safety valve to let all that out. Swimming is another great choice. We have the perfect example in Michael Phelps who found that swimming was not only his passion but helped him to control his energy. This was essential when he wanted to stop taking ADHD medication. It certainly worked for him!
- Some kids with ADHD do really well with team sports. Others, not so well. Teamwork may mean collaboration and coping with frustration when your child’s team loses. Waiting around to get some of the action may not suit some ADHD kids at all. But all the movement and thrills often help the child to thrive in this environment. Distraction leading to false moves could be a problem when your child is blamed for a match loss. This is why individual sports are often the best choice.
- Sports such as archery where a high degree of focus is essential over short time spans may be good for some kids.
Don’t forget the green time
There are lots of studies that show that when ADHD kids are doing any activity in natural surroundings, they tend to have milder and more manageable symptoms. That is the result of just one study conducted by the University of Illinois researchers who surveyed 400 children.
We can call it “green space therapy” or whatever name we like. Any exercise such as walking, backpacking, gardening or running in the great outdoors will be extremely beneficial. Camping, fishing and tree climbing are also great activities. It does not have to be a wood or park either. A garden or backyard will do just as well.
Other studies have shown that kids with city views did less well on impulse control tests than their counterparts who had views of parks and trees. Yet another study shows that kids were performing better on attention tasks after a 20-minute walk in green spaces than their peers who walked downtown.
There may be many reasons why Finland has one of the lowest rates of ADHD in the world. One fascinating reason may be that kids are obliged to have a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of class time. They also have to do this outdoors whether it is snowing or not!
Make sure you know what is going on
Whether it is the YMCA, scouts or some other youth organization, these can be great ways to get kids moving. However, you will want to see how they approach sports and how competitive it is. Make sure you observe them doing sports or other physical activities. Lots of the activities they do are not connected with sports and they really enjoy the games and the rewards they get. Check out whether the coaches, their instructions and the pace they set are actually a good match for your kid.
Let your child decide his or her exercise program
Find out what your kid enjoys doing best. That will be the determining factor in organizing everything. Make sure he is enjoying all the activities. We know from various studies that there will be enormous benefits whatever they choose to do. One group doing martial arts were found to be less impulsive and did more homework. They also had better grades and were better behaved.
It is even better if you manage the time to do some of these activities with your kids as this will lead to greater bonding and may also improve your own physical well-being. Exercise for ADHD kids is also for parents and adults.
Looking ahead at exercise and ADHD studies
We know that there is a large increase in ADHD diagnosis (about 40% since 2008). This may be due to greater awareness of parents and teachers. The pharmaceutical companies are cashing in on this trend – the rate of prescriptions rises about 6% annually.
What a pity that there are very few entrepreneurial start-ups geared at getting kids moving. We will have to do it ourselves, for the moment.