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  • Writer's pictureADHD: Bitesize

Get Moving! How Exercise Can Help ADHD

Exercise has emerged in recent years as an effective secondary treatment for ADHD. During exercise, the brain releases neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which is naturally lacking in those of us with ADHD.

Dopamine (and other neurotransmitters) help the different areas of the brain communicate better with each other, improving executive functions such as working memory. Boosting neurotransmitter production is the main way stimulant medications helps treat ADHD.

Getting Started

The recommended amount of exercise for the average adult is 150 minutes a week (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) for moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of more intensive aerobic exercise. It doesn't matter what form this exercise takes, as long as you're sweating and raise your heart rate.

Here are some forms of exercise you can try. Some are things you can do alone, others are team sports. Some you can do at the gym or sports club, others you can do at home (and for some, both!).

Some are well-known and obvious, others are more obscure. Let these spark your interest; try to think of exercise or sport which would continue to maintain your attention and excitement the best:

Swimming Running Cycling Aerobics Dance Tennis Football

Rowing Water Polo Track and Field Boxing Martial Arts Badminton

Hockey Rock Climbing Basketball/Netball Skiing/Snowboarding

Hiking Ultimate Frisbee Lacrosse Gymnastics Swimming

Choose one or more forms of exercise which interest you the most, and brainstorm more if necessary. Research local clubs or sports facilities for information on membership, dates/times of any classes, and any equipment needed.

Most sports facilities will offer free trials so you can have a go before you commit to anything, so consider arranging some tryouts with a few to see which you enjoy.

There are usually plenty of local opportunities to try many different types of exercise.

How Do I Stick With It?

One of the biggest obstacles to regular exercise, particularly for those of us with ADHD, is commitment. We're really good at starting new hobbies or habits, but equally good at giving up as our interest wanes. So how can we create healthy habits and stick to them?

The key thing is to maintain interest after the initial novelty has worn off. To do that, we have to keep things fun and interesting, motivate ourselves with rewards, and build exercise into our daily routines so we have little to no excuse not to do it.

Try Several Types Before Committing

Often, we have to try a few different forms of exercise before finding one we really love, or continually vary up our forms of exercise to keep ourselves interested and motivated.

Make It Unavoidable

Building the exercise into our daily routines helps to keep us on track. Cycling, walking, or jogging to work instead of driving, for example. Another way is to commit to a team sport; not only is exercise often more fun when you aren't alone, your teammates can hold you accountable if you don't show up!

Team sports can help with both fun and accountability.

Reward Yourself

Rewards are also a great way to stay motivated, but it's a good idea to keep the rewards healthy! Maybe avoid the chocolate as a post-workout bonus, and go for an episode of a favourite TV show instead.

Similarly, building in the reward as part of the exercise is a great idea. For example, only listening to that favourite podcast while on the treadmill, or only visiting a much-loved venue if you cycle there—hopefully it's not a doughnut shop!

Set SMART Goals

It's important to set manageable goals, particularly when first starting out. Create goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. It's an easy mistake to set targets that are far too ambitious, then get discouraged when they aren't met. It's far better to set lower targets to start with.

Creating bronze, silver and gold targets is also a fun way to set SMART goals. Bronze could be the minimum level of exercise, say ten minutes a day. Twenty minutes could be silver, and thirty minutes gold. That way, it's easy to achieve something every day, and there's still a more ambitious goal to chase. Tracking exercise is a great idea (a Bullet Journal is, as always, a great place).


Even if all you can manage is a few minutes a day to start with, that's fine. After all, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small, and your health, wellbeing and self-esteem will improve.

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