Though it’s common knowledge that regular exercise is good for us, affecting everything from our weight to our cholesterol to our mood, for ADHDers, exercise is even more beneficial. Working out can act as supplemental treatment for women struggling with ADHD, increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine to engage the brain, reducing irritability and enhancing focus.1 Discover the eight best workouts for ADHD as well as exercise tips to help you find your ideal routine.
Why Exercise Is So Important
Beyond the physical benefits of exercise, from improving cardiovascular function to toning muscles, exercise can also have positive effects on the brain, transforming physical exercises into mental exercises for ADHD. According to Amelia Russo-Neustadt, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at California State University, exercise can help people with ADHD refrain from startling and overreacting by balancing norepinephrine in the brain stem’s arousal center.2 She also says this can reduce irritability, a common ADHD trait. Other positive effects of exercise researchers have found include:
- Improvement in executive function, especially during aerobic exercise3
- Motivation to learn new skills, particularly during complex exercises that stimulate the fight-or-flight response
- Changes in the same neurochemicals and brain structures as in popular ADHD medications4
Exercise Tips for Women with ADHD
If the idea of laborious exercise intimidates you, you’ll be happy to know that moderate exercise is actually preferred for women with ADHD. Rodney Dishman, Ph.D. at the University of Georgia found that while rigorous exercise helped lessen hyperactivity in boys, specifically helping them stare straight ahead and follow specific tasks, moderate exercise was more effective for girls when it came to motor skills.5
Complexity also plays a role in how beneficial an exercise is to a person with ADHD. In one animal study, researchers found that compared to rats who ran on a treadmill, their peers who practiced complex motor skills in acrobatic exercises improved levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) more dramatically, which suggests growth in the cerebellum, a crucial point of overactivity in the ADHD brain.6
If you’re a woman with ADHD, consider the following tips before exploring specific exercises below:
- Exercise in the morning to set a positive, energized tone for the day.
- Don’t overdo it. Moderate exercise is more effective than rigorous exercise for ADHD women.
- The more complex the exercise, the better, so feel free to skip monotonous exercises like running on a treadmill.
- Feel free to experiment. While experts may have differing opinions about the efficacy of one exercise over another, every ADHD person has their own unique challenges and finding what regimen works for you will help you stick to your new routine.
What Workouts Are Best for ADHD
From running and biking to yoga and surfing, there are a variety of exercises you can choose from to help manage your symptoms of ADHD. Here are eight of the top exercises we’ve found and what makes them impactful when it comes to the ADHD brain.
- Running: Creating new pathways in your brain and flooding it with chemicals that help you pay attention, running is a beneficial type of aerobic exercise that can be done outside, helping to keep the brain engaged with varied visual stimuli.
- Swimming: Swimming is another prime example of moderate aerobic exercise, which has been linked to improvement of executive function.
- Biking: Some die-hard cyclists have compared the effects of biking with the positive effects of stimulant medication (not the negative effects) and research backs them up since both have the tendency to boost dopamine and norepinephrine, improving attention, movement and coordination at once.7
- Yoga: Like other mindfulness techniques, yoga can help decrease some of the symptoms of ADHD by requiring yogis to slow down, pay attention to detailed movements and focus on breathing.8
- Strength Training: Goal-oriented strength training exercises help motivate the ADHD brain to overcome specific obstacles and work toward more challenging reps, adding to mental resilience. This can help reduce anxiety, which is a common coexisting condition for people with ADHD.9
- Power Walking: Like running, power walking is a beneficial aerobic exercise that can be done outdoors, but it has lower impact on your body, which can be preferable for those looking for a less vigorous workout.
- Surfing: Like other complex exercises, the technical movement in surfing activates the brain areas that control balance, sequencing and fine motor adjustments, which make your brain practice intense focus and concentration.
- Hiking: Feel the benefits of aerobic exercise while also getting out in nature with a hike. Some hikers with ADHD say that the exercise helps them plan ahead, get the strength training they crave, practice organizational skills and clear the mind with the same efficacy as meditation.10
In addition to working out to help manage symptoms of ADHD, be sure to schedule in down time as well. Practicing mindfulness and prioritizing sleep is crucial, and studies show that poor sleep can actually make symptoms of ADHD worse. Pair your workout with a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, and minimize sugar and alcohol intake, which have also been shown to exacerbate symptoms. Brillia for Adults is another helpful addition to your wellness regimen and works best in combination with your healthy lifestyle choices. Find out more about how Brillia works.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a certificate in Narrative Therapy. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.