We all know that exercise is good for us.

And yes, most of us — and our kids — probably don’t get enough of it.

Exercise and ADHD
Exercise and Sports for ADHD: The most underrated ‘natural’ treatment?

A recent study by the University of Georgia, published yesterday, shows that even a small amount of exercise can help alleviate symptoms of ADHD.


The researchers took 32 young men with elevated ADHD symptoms and asked them to cycle at a moderate intensity for 20 minutes on one day, whilst sitting and resting for 20 minutes on another.

The subjects were asked to perform a task requiring mental concentration both before and after each 20 minute session. Predictably, the research found that “it was only after the exercise when the participants felt motivated to do the task; they also felt less confused and fatigued and instead felt more energetic“.

This ties in with many other studies that have found a link between exercise and increased cognitive performance.

“Exercise is already known as a stress reducer and mood booster, so it really has the potential to help those suffering with ADHD symptoms. And while prescription drugs can be used to treat these symptoms, there’s an increased risk of abuse or dependence and negative side effects. Those risks don’t exist with exercise.”

– Patrick O’Connor, the study’s senior author

While the most recent study was carried out on young adults, there is every reason to believe that our children with ADHD can benefit greatly from an increase to daily exercise.

Parents aren’t blind to this concept.

The fact is that it isn’t always easy to get a child to do what the research says is healthy for her to do.

As we all know!

One key step towards increasing exercise is to resist the urge to nag and instead ask: how can we make exercise more fun?

The best disguise for exercise is, undoubtedly, sport.

Ask a child to exercise and he’s likely to stare daggers through your skull.

Ask him if he’d like to kick a football around the park with his friends and he’s probably already off to fetch his coat.

A key difference in perception that we should never forget.

What Sports Are Good For ADHD?

Most sports!

But particularly those that require aerobic exercise and/or the mastery of a complex skill.

Aerobic Exercises for ADHD

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Dancing

While it may be difficult to encourage a child to come running around the park, a much better tactic is to find a sport that involves aerobic activity in a distracted environment: football, rugby, baseball, basketball, etc.

Aim to replace the dirty word ‘Exercise’ with ‘Fun’, ‘Play’ and — especially for boys — ‘Competition’!

Exercises with Complex Skills for ADHD

  • Martial arts
  • Boxing
  • Rock climbing
  • Golf

Any sport that engages your child mentally as well as physically represents a double-win.

Working on mastery of a complex skill-set can help to build synaptic networks in the brain, which is a scientific way of saying simply: It makes your kid smarter.

How does a sport engage mentally?

In most cases, by offering immediate feedback as a basis for improvement, or by forcing us to immerse in the requirements of the task.

Speak to many rock climbers and they will recount, with near total captivation, how they enter a state of ‘flow’ as they take on the wall.

Note: Flow is one of the most powerful positive mindsets any of us can experience. Indeed, for the ADHD sufferer, it is paramount to bliss.

Sports That Combine Complex Skill and Aerobic Exercise

Racket sports are great for providing both aerobic exercise and mental immersion.

Their demands on hand-eye coordination provide a welcome workout for our attention spans.

Is your child interested in any of these sports?

  • Tennis
  • Badminton
  • Squash
  • Racquetball

Each ticks the box of physically demanding and mentally engaging.

A great choice for kids with ADHD — and everybody else, too!

Team Sports vs. Individual Sports

It’s important to distinguish whether your child has a preference for team sports, individual sports, or both.

There are advantages to each.

Team sports give structure and accountability that is invaluable to a child with ADHD. They also provide a healthy environment that can advance the child’s social skills and his/her perceived ability to ‘fit in’.

Individual sports provide faster feedback (What am I doing right vs. doing wrong), and they often come with less pressure attached. Some kids may be sensitive to high-pressure team sports, especially during the early ‘getting-to-grips’ phase. This is less of a factor in sports catered for individual play.

You may find that your child loves both, in which case – great! Double the benefits.

“My Kid Doesn’t Like Sports.”

It’s rare for kids to not enjoy any type of sport.

Often we get the impression that a kid is Anti-Sport, but it actually means he hasn’t found one that suits him.

Avoid ‘pushing’ your child towards the sport that you want him to play. Instead focusing on increasing his exposure to a variety of them.

Maybe your kid is interested in badminton, not football. Martial arts, not rugby. Not even he will know until he is exposed to a healthy mix of choices.

If it’s truly impossible to get your child to exercise through sporting activities, then as parents we have to get a little more creative.

Can you incentivise other activities that involve exercise?

Perhaps by agreeing pocket money to walk the dog for an hour on a regular basis, or to carry out a job that requires physical exertion.

Are there opportunities where the family can walk from A to B instead of taking the car?

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit. You can make it the ‘accidental’ by-product of a well-designed routine.

This cuts out the “Oh, not that again” reaction from many kids who are trained to reject any invitation that sounds like hard work.

What ways have you found to get your child to exercise? Have you seen a direct improvement to ADHD symptoms?

Let us know your suggestions!

Why Exercise and Sport Is Good For ADHD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *