The Use of Physical Exercise to Reduce Symptoms of ADHD



    Written by: Amelia Kelley, PhD, MS, LPC

Many people with ADHD find it hard to manage their symptoms of brain fog, forgetfulness, distractibility and physical agitation. Most want to know how to manage their symptoms and, some would like to do this without medication. The HIIT for ADHD Program discussed below has been researched and proven to help reduce ADHD symptoms and improve general wellbeing and focus.
Scott, 35-year-old male who suffers from adult ADHD was excited when he tried this program and told his wife, “I feel more awake and alive then I have in years. Even more then when I tried ADHD medication last year!”

How did Scott find this alert, excited feeling that helped him become more focused without using medication? He found it by using a home-based, exercise program using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that he easily accessed on a free website and only had to commit a few minutes a day to completing.

To truly understand why this program works it is important to understand some of the science behind HIIT and why it is important for the ADHD brain. 

HIIT and its Effects on the ADHD Brain

Exercise improves symptoms of depression, anxiety and general-wellbeing by increasing serotonin and reducing the stress hormone cortisol. In addition to increasing serotonin, exercise helps to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. Research has shown that more intense levels of exercise, which is the foundation of HIIT, helps to more quickly and efficiently increase dopamine, which is often deficient in the ADHD brain. Dopamine is responsible for reward-motivation behaviors and when it is deficient a person can struggle with memory loss, low motivation, fatigue, poor focus and concentration and a reduced ability to handle stress, which are all problem areas for those with ADHD.

To experience the benefits of HIIT, which demands a shorter amount of time as compared to other traditional exercise programs and can be done without equipment, the research-supported three-week program will be described below.

The HIIT for ADHD Program

The following is a step-by-step guide on how you can implement HIIT for three-weeks and see a significant improvement in your symptoms!

       To monitor symptom change, take this survey on day 1 and then again on day 21 of the exercise program: https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/addquiz.htm. Make sure to record your results for reference.

1.      Go to a website of your choice that has HIIT workout videos, or you can use the workouts used in this specific study at http://www.fitnessblender.com/.
2.      If using the study’s workout videos, go to the log in tab on the website and use the following log in name: “adhdstudy” and the following password “Hiitstudy12”.
3.      Once you log in, go the to “workouts” tab and choose “my favorite workouts” from the drop down menu.
4.      There are 15 workouts, click on the first workout video. Complete 5 videos per week in order. Do each video to the best of your ability. If you are unable to complete a video as it is instructed, simply jog or march in place, remember a benefit of HIIT is you can tailor it to your own fitness level!

The Long-Term

After three-weeks of following this program you should see a reduction in symptoms and an improved ability to handle physical and emotional stress. The progress does not stop here. It is important to make HIIT, or other forms of exercise, an integral part of your daily routine. Research shows that aiming to exercise daily, but allowing yourself to miss days if life gets in the way, will result in a more regular workout regimen as opposed to designating “days off”. Maintaining exercise in your regular self-care for ADHD will help you to manage your symptoms and even possibly prevent the need for any long-term and permanent medication interventions.

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