The Connection Between Exercise And ADHD: How Physical Exercise Can Help You

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 06/22/2022

When left untreated, ADHD can be difficult to moderate in daily life. There are many ways to effectively treat and deal with ADHD, including medication, therapy, and self-care. Physical exercise can be a valuable part of your regimen of self-care.

The evidence is well documented that using physical exercise will help in various mental health areas, and this article will give you more information about the connection between exercise and ADHD.

Symptoms Of ADHD

ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a mental condition that revolves around the symptoms of impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness. While the difficulties of ADHD vary from person to person, common troubles include time management, organization skills, goal setting, and managing employment and relationships.

ADHD is most commonly associated with children via popular culture, but it can be present at any stage of life. ADHD can be quite debilitating as an adult. Issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, procrastination, mood swings, and anger issues can lead to serious employment and relationship problems. Yet, many people can lead full, productive, and rewarding lives despite their ADHD diagnosis.

If you or a loved one wants to learn more about ADHD, consider taking a free and confidential diagnostic test: It can help you determine if you should look further into getting help. The free diagnostic tool may be your first step to getting the help you deserve.

Causes And Treatment Of ADHD

The causes behind ADHD continue to be debated. Researchers know that ADHD tends to run in families, but genetic history does not fully explain ADHD. Brain changes, including chemical imbalances, also help to explain ADHD. Brain development is important to look at it, including nutrition, infections, and smoking/drinking/substance abuse during pregnancy. Finally, there are outlier reasons like a brain injury that can explain ADHD.

Overall, it comes down to chemicals in the brain, and like with other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, exercise can help put those chemicals in proper order. Regardless of the uncertain causes of ADHD, exercise helps to manage and maintain proper mental health. ADHD is a difficult mental illness that can affect multiple areas of your life, and it should be taken as seriously as any other major mental illness.

While exercise can be a major benefit to someone with ADHD, it can also be part of the larger picture of the disorder's treatment. Medication and therapy for ADHD are common and proven to be effective. Additionally, there are many other self-help avenues, such as diet, meditation, sleep hygiene, support groups, and more. While this article focuses on exercise, there are many options for seeking help with ADHD.

Background On Physical Exercise And Mental Health

Physical exercise has a well documented positive effect on a variety of mental illnesses. For example, take this large study, which shows that people who exercise have measurably better mental health than those who do not. It is clear from decades of research and many different studies that physical exercise helps mental health in general.

Many publications specifically refer to anxiety, depression, and ADHD as greatly benefiting from exercise. People with ADHD seem to benefit from physical exercise, especially if they also deal with depression and anxiety.

Many studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression almost as effectively as an antidepressant. Plus, exercise may come with fewer side effects than an antidepressants. Exercise helps to battle depression and its symptoms, and people with ADHD can greatly benefit from this aspect of exercise since they are much more likely to deal with depression.

Exercise also functions as an excellent anti-anxiety treatment. Exercise can relieve stress, tension and boost positive emotions. Anxiety and stress are major triggers for mental health issues, and exercise is one of the best natural ways to reduce them.

Exercise can also alleviate other symptoms that might pop up. The more mental health issues you have, the more likely you will deal with other various life problems. By managing anxiety and depression, exercise also, directly and indirectly, helps with other disorders like OCD and Substance Use Disorder.

Physical exercise promotes general mental wellness, and it can help alleviate the gauntlet of potential problems that people with ADHD face.

Lastly, exercise can help with general areas like self-esteem and physical health in various areas such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

The Connection Between ADHD And Exercise

It is well documented that exercise helps to manage ADHD symptoms. This study shows how children and adolescents specifically benefit from exercise, and adults have been shown to greatly benefit. While exercise is not a miracle cure for the disorder, it is a valuable addition to the treatment of ADHD, especially for people who have difficulties with medication.

Further good news shows that exercise will not hurt. While many treatments have side effects or other risks, exercise is a near risk-free treatment for ADHD.

Dr. Betsy Hoza, a psychology researcher and professor from the University of Vermont, commented on the treatment of childhood ADHD, “It’s important to note that there is absolutely NO reason why a parent can’t add physical activity to the treatment they’re already using. Unless a child has a physical challenge that would be exacerbated by activity, exercise is a do-no-harm intervention.”

Exercise As A Medication

Exercise can be so effective for people with ADHD that it is almost seen as a medication. Since it can help treat symptoms to such a positive degree, many people with ADHD truly rely on exercise to manage their illness. Here is a good article about exercise as a prescription written by a medical doctor. The connection between exercise and ADHD is so positive that exercise is necessary for many people with ADHD.

Exercise And Attention 

While exercise can function as an effective treatment for people with ADHD, a specific way that exercise has been shown to help people with ADHD is their attention. A number of studies, including this one, show an improvement in attention that comes from exercise. As an integral symptom of ADHD, attention problems can create huge problems in the ADHD person’s life, and being able to alleviate those symptoms through exercise can help a great deal.

Executive Functioning, ADHD, And Exercise

People with ADHD often have executive functioning issues, which can inhibit the establishment and maintenance of an exercise habit.

Executive functioning is referred to as the brain's management system because it allows you to set goals, plan, and get things done. Executive functioning has a major impact on your ability to function at home, work, and life in general.

To work around executive functioning difficulties, consider some of the following tips. You could have a workout buddy who could keep you on schedule, remind you sometimes, and generally hold you accountable to keep you on track. Plus, the responsibility of keeping your workout buddy on track too might help you stay responsible.

Another tip is to mix up the workout. Running around the same park five times a week for 30 minutes each time would be pretty boring, and you would be more likely to fall out of the habit. Consider mixing it up, which might include taking exercise classes, learning a new form of exercise, going to different places to exercise, and exercising in groups.

How Often Should You Exercise? 

Medical professionals generally recommend that you get about 150 minutes of exercise per week, which comes to about 30 minutes, five days a week. If you are participating in intense aerobic workouts, 75 minutes a week may suffice. The important thing is to get some exercise by doing a workout that you enjoy. Try to get your heart rate up so that you are at least sweating from the effort.

What If I Don’t Know How To Exercise?

If you are at a loss for exercising, you could find a class or teacher at a local gym. Above all else, remember to keep it simple. Many people start their exercising endeavors by beginning to walk every day.


Exercise is shown to help people manage mental illnesses. Exercise can help you to deal with ADHD, anxiety, depression, physical health, and raise self-esteem. Plus, it cannot hurt! There is no risk, and exercise is a great hobby to pursue.

If you have ADHD, exercise is a great option to try to manage your symptoms. ADHD can be difficult, isolating, and debilitating at times. If you stick with it and keep trying to manage the illness, such as utilizing exercise, you can lead a rich and dynamic life, regardless of your ADHD diagnosis.