ADHD – What is it and How Can Regular Exercise Help? – Kirby Harley AEP

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children, with one in twenty children in Australia diagnosed with the condition. ADHD also affects many adults, however, is often identified in school-aged children as a result of disruption in the classroom, or inability to complete schoolwork. ADHD more common among boy than girls. Due to the recent development in neuroscience, brain imaging and clinical research, they have found that ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain’s self-management system, rather than a behaviour or learning disability. Common symptoms often displayed by those with ADHD include inattention or not being able to keep focus, hyperactivity or excess movement that is not fitting to the setting and impulsivity or hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought. As well as these aforementioned, poor time management, exaggerated emotions, hyper focus and executive dysfunction are also commonly exhibited by those with ADHD. The differences in these elements of functioning cause distress and problems with functioning at home, school and in social settings.

There are three main types of ADHD inclusive of the inattentive type, hyperactive/impulsive type or the combined type. The diagnosis of a definitive type is based on the symptoms that have been present over the past 6 months, that correlate with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5) diagnostic criteria. Currently, there is no specific causes of ADHD that have been identified, however there are several risk factors that may contribute to the development of ADHD. These risk factors include genetics, born prematurely, brain injury and maternal drug or alcohol use and smoking. There are, however, studies that have shown a reduction in dopamine in the brain of those with ADHD – a neurotransmitter that helps with attention and clear thinking, as well as brain-derived neurotrophic factor – a protein important for learning and memory.

Many ADHD suffers are put on stimulant medications to increase the dopamine availability in the brain, however these stimulants can be quite powerful (such as amphetamines). Luckily, there is also a plethora of literature that concludes that exercise can aid in the reduction of symptoms of ADHD and improve all aspects of life for those living with ADHD. When performing exercise, the brain releases neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which help with attention and clear thinking, which provides grounds on how exercise can have many of the same effects as the medical stimulant drugs often used to treat ADHD. In addition to this, exercise is also shown to ease stress and anxiety, improve impulse control, reduce compulsive behaviour, enhance working memory, improve executive functioning (needed to plan, organise and remember detail) and increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (protein involved in learning and memory). Overall, this improves their ability to function in the community, in social settings and improve self-esteem and mental state.

If you, or you know someone who is living with ADHD and would like to implement a structured exercise routine into your life, to improve the above elements of functioning, please book in with reception for and initial consult with one of our clinical exercise physiologists.