Born To Move: Why Exercise for ADHD Could Be The Key to Recovery
In this article we explore why exercise for ADHD is considered by many to be the number one natural treatment for ADHD after medication and supplementation. We also take a look at the best types of exercise for ADHD in our upcoming part 2, and how to incorporate exercise into you or your child's lifestyle as a way to naturally “medicate” your brain for more attention, calmness, and success.
The Rising Popularity of Exercise for ADHD
In the additude report on alternatives for ADHD, a survey of 4,400 people with ADHD found that exercise for ADHD was in the top three most used and successful treatment strategies, after medication and supplements:
"exercise was rated as “extremely” or “very” effective by roughly half of the respondents who use this treatment. Yet only 13 percent of these respondents said a doctor had recommended exercise to reduce symptoms, and only 37 percent of all respondents said physical activity was part of their treatment plan"
In his highly recommended book The Spark: How Exercise Changes the Brain, ADHD expert Dr. Jon Ratey has a chapter on ADHD and shares how it can not only improve all symptoms of ADHD (attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, sleep etc.) but also how many people who would otherwise be diagnosed ADHD and medicated, in fact function efficiently when they use exercise to “self medicate.” Furthermore, Dr. Ratey is passionate about exercise for ADHD, and recommends that sufferers think of it as a way to "self medicate" their brain.
There has also been some research to suggest that ADHD is indeed the number one natural treatment after medication, and in many ways it is superior because it has no side effects, is good for your health, and increases oxygen to the brain more efficiently than medication can. Either way, whether you medicate or not, “exercise should form part of your treatment plan,” according to another well-known ADHD specialist, Dr. Russel Barkley.
The Dancer Who Needed To Move To Think
At the age of 7, Dame Gillian Lynne's mother took her to a doctor worried by the school's suggestion that she might have a “learning disorder.”
They called her “Wriggle Bottom”, but this was in the 1930s, at a time when the label of ADHD was not in vogue.
During the visit, the doctor switched on the radio, took Gillian's mother aside, and asked her to watch at a distance, as Gillian began to leap around and dance.
The doctor turned to Mrs. Lynne and said, “There is nothing wrong with your child. She isn't sick. She is a dancer.”
Imagine: if this was today, he may have agreed that her daughter was “hyperactive” and advised an assessment. But instead, he suggested she take her to ballet. “We walked into this room and it was full of people like me, people who couldn't sit still, people who had to move to think.”
If it wasn't for prescribing movement rather than medication, Gillian Lynne may have never gone on to have a successful career at the Royal Ballet, and be responsible for some of the most successful theatre productions in history.
ADHD as Hunter's in a Farmer's World
Thomas Hartmann had a theory expressed in his original book “Hunter's in a Farmer's World” which suggested that people with ADHD share the genetics of hunter-gatherer and nomadic tribes, versus modern farmers. His theory was that the traits that are adaptive for a Hunter-gatherer when translated to the modern world become maladaptive, e.g. high energy in a classroom environment becomes “hyperactive”.
His theory was scoffed at by mainstream thinkers in the ADHD community, maybe because Hartmann was not an academic researcher. But 30 years later he received an apology letter from the American Psychiatric Organisation admitting that his hypothesis was vindicated by DNA testing.
It was found that people with ADHD shared AD74 allele in common with hunter, hunter-gatherer and nomadic tribes, around the world. This layman's theory was vindicated, and also fits in with a popular theory by mainstream researchers that ADHD may be related to genes related to dopamine and novelty seeking.
This finding does seem to back up the idea that those with ADHD may have a biological predisposition for high energy and movement. In other words, we may merely have a higher need for movement, and thus certain sedentary environments such as schools and workplaces are a “poor fit” for such individual differences. As an example, our hunter gatherer and nomadic ancestors walked an average 20 miles per day. Victorians walked 6. Modern humans half of that if they are lucky, as we spend too much time in front of computer screens.
Considering this, then, is it any surprise that exercise for ADHD appears to be the number one natural treatment? Could something as simple as movement and exercise form a major piece of the puzzle to helping us crack the code of ADHD, and not only learning to live with it, but thrive with it? Of course we can see this need for extra movement as a problem or part of a disability, or we can see it as a strength and an asset under certain circumstances. Either way, it's "just the way we are." To make friends with ADHD we need to make friends with our innate differences, mental and physical.
Born to Move: Why Movement Could Be Key to ADHD
Data from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) shows a surprising 40% correlation between rates of ADHD diagnosis (from state to state) and sunshine. Whilst lack of sunshine may indeed be a contributing causative factor in ADHD, it's clear that the more likely causation here is that when there is less sunshine people are more likely to stay indoors. In turn, we are more likely to be sedentary and spend more time on computers.
Functional neurologist and ADHD/ASD expert Dr. Robert Melillo, author of “Disconnected Kids” and Reconnected Kids, has postulated that movement (or lack thereof) is central to the genesis of disorders such as ADHD. He suggests that our modern sedentary lifestyles driven by “screen time” is the main driver for the apparent increase in the levels of ADHD diagnoses.
Whilst Melillo and his “Brain Balance” treatment program has received some push back for his theories within the mainstream, nonetheless pilot studies such as by John Hopkins' University are suggesting his program may be effective after all.
Other researchers, such as Roger Walsh Phd in his paper on “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” (TLCs) lend support to the link between ADHD and the negative effects of poor lifestyle choices, including sedentary lifestyles and excessive screen-time.
Conclusion: Getting Your Groove On
It's becoming clear not only that movement and exercise for ADHD appears to be highly effective, but that it may even be a major factor in understanding ADHD itself.
Common sense tells us that exercise is good for us, whilst the research is catching up to demonstrate just how powerful exercise for ADHD really could be.
Of course, getting enough exercise in our hectic modern lifestyles can be challenging, and when you have ADHD you can struggle with commitment. But that's why we will be following this article up with our next report, “The Exercise Prescription for ADHD: 7 Tips to Successfully Exercise for ADHD”.
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