children with adhd exercising

Does Exercise Help ADHD in Children?

May 6, 2024
by Dr. Francisco Navarro

For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the benefits of regular physical activity go beyond just improving physical health. Exercise has been shown to potentially alleviate some of the core symptoms associated with ADHD and improve executive function, making it a valuable addition to traditional treatment approaches.

Can exercise help kids with ADHD symptoms?

Exercise and ADHD appear to have a positive relationship, and physical activity may help children with ADHD in several ways. First, it promotes the release of dopamine and endorphins, neurotransmitters that play a role in regulating attention, focus, and mood. Additionally, exercise provides an outlet for pent-up energy, reducing restlessness and hyperactivity. It also helps improve concentration, cognitive function, and self-esteem.

However, although exercise for ADHD may be highly beneficial, it typically should not be viewed as a standalone treatment. It works best when combined with other evidence-based approaches, such as medication, psychotherapy, and accommodations in school or at home. 

how does exercise help adhd infographic

The science behind exercise and ADHD

Research indicates potential benefits of acute aerobic exercise and long-term exercise interventions for those with ADHD. Moderate aerobic exercise has demonstrated fairly robust effects on ADHD symptoms and executive functions in children. Although more research is still needed, exercise may serve as a complementary ADHD therapy due to advantages like low costs, easy implementation, and lack of side effects.

Can exercise be a substitute for ADHD medication?

While exercise can help manage ADHD symptoms, it is generally not recommended as a complete replacement for medication prescribed by a healthcare professional. ADHD medication is designed to directly target and improve the underlying neurological imbalances associated with the disorder, providing more targeted and consistent symptom relief.

Exercise can still be an excellent complementary approach to support overall well-being and potentially enhance the effects of medication. However, for many children with moderate to severe ADHD, medication remains a crucial component of their treatment plan.

exercise routine for adhd kids infographic

What are some tips to help kids with ADHD get more exercise?

Encouraging regular physical activity for children with ADHD can be challenging, but with the right strategies, it can become a fun and rewarding part of their routine.

 

  • Exercises for ADHD should be engaging, varied, and tailored to their interests. Consider team sports, martial arts, or outdoor activities like hiking or cycling.
  • Break up exercise into shorter bursts throughout the day, as sustaining focus for longer periods can be difficult.
  • Involve your child in choosing the activities to foster ownership and motivation.
  • Set achievable goals and celebrate small victories to boost confidence.
  • Make it a family affair by exercising together and creating a supportive, enjoyable environment.
  • Explore options like after-school programs or community centers that offer structured physical activities.

Incorporating exercise into the lives of children with ADHD can be a powerful tool in managing symptoms and promoting overall well-being. While it may not be a complete solution, it can greatly complement other treatments and provide numerous physical and mental health benefits.

Help your child manage ADHD with ResWell

ResWell believes in the mind-body connection and recommends prescribed movement for many of our patients with ADHD or other mental health conditions. By working closely with our providers and exploring various physical activities, you can help your child harness the positive effects of exercise and unlock their full potential.

If you’re looking for support in managing your child’s ADHD, consider reaching out to the experienced team at ResWell. Our compassionate mental health providers can work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your child’s unique needs, including incorporating the benefits of exercise and other integrative approaches. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.