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ADHD and Regular Exercise

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

It's a love/hate relationship, but here's how to make it less complicated!

There are many reasons why we ADHDers love regular exercise.

* It’s all about moving – we’re born for that!

* Huge, huge benefits to our physical health

* It reduces the risks of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, low mood

* It raises our self-esteem and overall well-being

* We don’t have to make any day-to-day decisions about what, when and where

* It impacts behavioural activation issues (basically getting going)

* It often improves our sleep which will have a direct effect on ADHD symptoms

Plus, reasons to love it just got a whole lot better!

Recent research* now tells us that:

* Executive function is disproportionately improved with exercise.

* There is an improvement in the brain’s structure and functioning. Yes! Due to the up-regulation of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor), which is implicated in neuron survival, synapse formation and synaptic plasticity. In other words, we can improve the connectivity within our brain even as adults. This wonderful ‘brain fertilizer’ offers potential long-term improvements, which is rare in interventions for ADHD

* There is an increase in dopamine and norepinephrine, which mimic the effects of stimulant medication. This might even mean you can reduce your medication dosage if this is important to you.

* This effect is available for those who prefer not to medicate at all.

It’s a convincing argument, isn’t it?

If it offers that many benefits, why aren’t we all exercising regularly?

Well, that’s the hate side of the equation.....

and it all begins when we talk ourselves out of it!

Let me demonstrate.

See how many of these beliefs you recognise....

How did you score?

Truth is, it only takes one powerful, if unfounded belief to stop us (literally!) in our tracks.

However, all worthwhile relationships deserve nurturing, and with simple awareness we can downplay the hatred and instead focus on the love.

Instead, ask yourself….

• What would improve if I become more active?

• What type of activities did I enjoy as a child? When did I feel most alive?

• What would I like to try out?

• How can I make it fun for myself?

• When is the best time for me to exercise regularly?

• How can I reward yourself afterwards? – what’s my go-to treat?

• How will I remember the effects? How will I push through any future obstacles?

• Shall I log my progress? Or the process? Shall I log my mood? Sleep? Fitness?

• Should I make an appointment with my GP just to check it’ll be OK to do this?

Now, chose your favourite way to make it sustainable:

• Use accountability (teams, clubs, personal trainer, apps like Strava or step-counting)

• Make it fun, rewarding, sociable (if that’s important to you)

• Prepare beforehand – make it easier to go than to cancel. Sign up ahead of time – pack gym clothes the night before, lay out your running clothes, get the bike out ready.

• Make it more tempting to exercise than not to exercise

• Think about how important novelty is to you. Expect to get bored with it! Have a range of things you like so you can pick your favourites. Treat yourself to new outfits etc

• Be creative! Use habit-forming techniques, my blog shows you how, music, self-kindness, challenges, or journaling. Get inspired, perhaps pairing a less interesting activity with something absorbing like listening to a podcast....

How many of these would you like to try? Help yourself!

Having chosen, ask yourself: What’s my next step?

When you’ve decided, you know what to do!

And before you know it, you’re taking regular exercise! Congratulations! You’ve got this!


Additude Webinar: Move Forward: How Exercise Optimizes the ADHD Brain, Patrick La Count PhD (advisor to Jessica McCabe)

Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)

Enormous thanks for inspiration to:

Laurie Dupar, founder of

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