I Weigh in on ADHD and Exercise

March 2, 2010 Douglas Cootey

I read an interesting article over at ADDitude Magazine the other day. Dr. John Ratey (of Hallowell & Ratey's Distraction series) reported on the success Jackson, one of his patients, had with exercise in treating his ADHD. Jackson was able to treat ADHD and Depression with an intense running regimen, even taking himself off medications completely. Could others experience the same results?

[caption id="attachment_293" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="two-girls-exercising-cayucos-beach1 by Mike Baird"]two-girls-exercising-cayucos-beach1 by Mike Baird[/caption]

According to the article, exercise benefits ADHD by increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine which help the brain with focus. I used to utilize this in my own life. I road my bike everywhere. Worked out frequently. Danced up a storm on the weekends. Then I went off to college and discovered computers.

Now my mind drifts in a sea of constant information and distraction that never ends. So blissful. It's a good thing my belly has grown to life preserver proportions so that I can drift effortlessly with the information tide. Only problem is that when I try to exercise, now my excessive weight abuses my joints, usually causing an injury. I should probably stop assuming I'm still 18. And thin.

Benefits of Exercise

Considering how well I've responded to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in treating my ADHD and Depression, and that I cannot use psychotropic meds due to the drastic side-effects I experience (permanent neurological damage and now on disability), I might benefit from a serious exercise regimen as well. That is why I've begun implementing changes in my diet as well as increased activity. Now I don't ask a daughter to bring me donuts. I get up and get them myself. See? Progress!

Seriously speaking, not everyone can replace medications with CBT and exercise. Although Jackson and I have been successful, we both seem to have a positive mindset that makes such alternative mental health therapies possible. We may also have the physiology for it. However, there are so many added benefits to exercise that you should consider adding it into your life to supplement the regimen you've already worked out with your doctor or psychologist. If you already exercise but don't see any benefits, you may want to consider increasing the intensity of the workout. You may not be hitting the sweet point that your brain needs.

As I read the article, I thought back to my high school and early college years. I was able to do so much. Then I moved away to Utah with my new wife and something changed. For some time, I've been trying to figure out what that change was and thanks to Dr. Ratey's article I may have figured it out: Chronic exercise. Yes, I sat down at desks more, but I also stopped exercising. I have a brother with ADHD who runs marathons. He also has multiple degrees and a high paying job. Dr. Ratey may be onto something.

Of course, anecdotal evidence is not enough. That's why Dr. Ratey cited studies as well. If ADHD creates a focus imbalance, and psychotropic meds can offset that balance, why not a natural remedy like exercise as well? From his own studies, if people exercised daily they usually needed a lower dose of stimulant. Why not intense exercise and no meds altogether? For some people, it was a real possibility. At the very least, they could cut back on stimulants in their lives.

Increased health, stamina, energy, focus, AND you fit in your clothes again? It seems a win-win situation for everybody. With Spring around the corner and longer days, now is a good time to consider adding exercise to your daily life. I am making preparations to bike again. Rollerblading, too. I'll look like a blob on wheels, but I'm determined to reap the benefits again that chronic exercise used to provide for me.

APA Reference
Cootey, D. (2010, March 2). I Weigh in on ADHD and Exercise, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Douglas Cootey

March, 29 2010 at 11:08 am

I have been looking around and actually am impressed by the great content material here. I work the nightshift at my job and it really gets boring. I have been coming right here for the previous couple nights and reading. I simply needed to let you know that I have been enjoying what I've seen and I look ahead to reading more.

kirk horton
March, 15 2010 at 4:36 am

Great article. Other researchers have found that even exercising in a green environment like a park or woods can reduce ADHD symptoms.
Mental exercise is necessary as well. I have dedicated some of my evenings to doing Play Attention ( It's a mental exercise that trains attention and teaches cognitive skills. They've got a unique interface that allows me to control the computer screen by mind alone! Way too cool.
I think it's important to realize the brain is like a muscle -- use it or lose it. That's why I get mental workouts too.
Good article Douglas.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
March, 15 2010 at 3:29 pm

@kirk I’m a bit skeptical that a green environment is at work there as opposed to exercising in a comforting locale in general, but I’m a firm believer in doing whatever works for you. If some people need green environments to experience max reduction, then more power to them. I know that I far prefer exercising along the riverway as opposed to riding through city streets. Nature has a soothing affect for me, but I know some who nature fills with anxiety.
As for mental exercise, it’s an excellent idea. I like to play sudoku and word games to challenge myself and keep myself mentally tip top.
Great comments.

March, 3 2010 at 9:45 am

Funny, I've recently started exercising too. It helps with anxiety and depression. So far so good.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
March, 9 2010 at 6:13 am

I’m glad to hear it, Christy! Keep at it and you’ll definitely make improvements in your life.

March, 3 2010 at 7:12 am

I've been using exercise for years to treat my depression and ADHD. It works. If I miss a day, I'm always worse. I also became a personal trainer and advocate healthy living and fitness (nutrition is important too!) because I've seen it change lives.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
March, 9 2010 at 6:06 am

Thanks for backing me up, Jen. I’m truly regretting having let me momentum swing away from daily exercise.

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