Adults with ADHD should exercise for amazing relief of their symptoms. This may be a no-brainer to some people, but a fair question is exactly what types of exercise are best for the adult with ADHD?
The best kinds of exercise for adults with ADHD would be those that create particular benefits. “Exercise almost immediately elevates dopamine and norepinephrine and keeps them up for a period of time so that it acts like a little bit of Ritalin or Adderall,” says John J. Ratey, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It also helps to still the impulsivity and still the cravings for immediate gratification as it works to wake up the executive function of the frontal cortex, which in turn allows for delay, better choices, a bit more time to evaluate consequences.”
Here is another statement from a renowned ADHD expert: “Any exercises that involve the coordination of complex movement stimulate the brain activities,” says Dr. Amnon Gimpel, a board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist and head of the Brain Power Clinic in Jerusalem.
So which kinds of exercise fit these bills, then? Many, but I’m thinking in particular the martial arts. I’m a certified personal trainer with martial arts training, but that aside, note that Dr. Gimpel mentions “coordination of complex movement.” This is precisely what happens in hard-style martial arts like karate, tae kwon do and kenpo, among others.
Students are taught what are called forms, also known as kata (in karate) and patterns (in tae kwon do). These are choreographed sequences of martial arts moves against imaginary opponents. As the student progresses in his training, the forms become more complex, as in number, sequence and difficulty of moves. A lot of coordination is required, but at the same time, a lot of coordination is developed; thus, klutzy people will benefit tremendously.
Other exercises for adult ADHD: Note that Dr. Ratey speaks of waking up the “executive function of the frontal cortex” of the brain. This is where reasoning takes place. What kind of exercise requires higher levels of reasoning? Which might be a better exercise for the adult with ADHD: jogging, or rock-wall climbing?
If the adult with ADHD enjoys running, that’s what he or she should do. But to tap into executive functions of the brain, rock-wall climbing (which I have done) is the better choice.
Not only is physical effort required in rock-wall climbing, but the participant visually studies the rock-wall route of foot and hand-holds ahead of time, to determine how best to proceed upward. There simply is no time to be impulsive when trying to figure out a climbing route.
Climbing is like chess, in that as the climber gains experience, he more and more premeditates every move, how to position his body as he proceeds to the next hold, just how to grab the hold with his hand, how to position a free leg to maintain balance while transitioning from one hold to the next, and so on. At the top of a tricky route, the climber adult with ADHD will be mellowed out and gratified.
According to Dr. Ratey’s first statement, any exercise will benefit the adult with ADHD. Bowling would be a good physical activity because it requires concentration, yet at the same time, getting over-excited is acceptable at a bowling center! In fact, in the martial arts studio, emitting loud sounds is often encouraged with hand and foot strikes.
Strength training would be a great pursuit for ADHD adults, because to succeed at building stronger muscle (not necessarily bulking up like a competitive bodybuilder), this requires concentration and commitment, not to mention goal setting.
Archery is another great exercise for adult ADHD, as it demands patience and focus. It also demands remaining perfectly still. On the other hand, for adults with ADHD who’d like to move around a lot, how about a group cardio class? This could be step aerobics or cardio kickboxing.
If strenuous exertion seems to mellow you out more than mental concentration, give steep-hill hiking a try, or rigorous mountain biking.
Bottom line: Adults with ADHD will reap substantial rewards from exercise, be it exercise per se, or a sport that requires a lot of fast, quick bursts of movement, or a sport that requires periods of complete stillness, or a mixture of the two. The best kind of exercise for adults with ADHD is daily exercise!