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Natural Treatments for ADD & ADHD in Kids and Adults - PART 2

As we continue our series on ways to manage ADD and ADHD naturally, we explore the effect of physical activity on attention disorders. 

According to Dr. John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, there are many reasons for using exercise as a method of treatment for ADD and ADHD. “Exercise almost immediately elevates dopamine and norepinephrine and keeps them up for a period of time so that it acts like a little bit of Ritalin or Adderall. It also helps to still the impulsivity and still the cravings for immediate gratification….” 

A study published in the August 2008 Journal of Attention Disorders finds that for children with ADHD, a 20-minute walk in a park may improve their ability to concentrate. Behavioral researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo found that exercise and a “dose of nature” may be as helpful as a dose of stimulants. “What this particular study tells us is that the physical environment matters,” explains Faber Taylor. “We don’t know what it is about the park, exactly – the greenness or lack of buildings – that seems to improve attention, but….we still saw a measurable difference in children’s symptoms.” During the walks, all of the children were un-medicated and the dose of nature had the same or better effects than a dose of medication.

So what does exercise actually do?

  • Improves executive functioning abilities, such as memory, sequencing, planning and prioritizing.
  • Increases attention and focus
  • Decreases hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • Increases alertness
  • Decreases the craving for new stimuli
  • Increases motivation
  • Improves mood (for example, exercise decreases feelings of depression and anxiety)

Adding regular exercise into your daily routine can greatly affect your overall health and well-being. Try going on family walks with the dog, biking, rollerblading, or playing active videogames together. These are fun ways to get moving and stay focused! For children ages 4-12, at least an hour of daily, unstructured outdoor play time is recommended. For teens and young healthy adults, 45-60 minutes of interval training (mixed cardio and weights) 4-5 days per week is ideal for weight management. Seniors should enjoy 30 minutes of light cardio 3-5 times per week, and light resistance training 2-3 times per week.

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