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NDIS - Exercise & ADHD

The Use of Exercise in the Management of ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental (brains growing stages) disorder that affects a person's ability to show appropriate self-control. This is usually diagnosed in childhood. 


It is the most common mental health disorder amongst children and adolescents in Australia with approximately 1 in 20 Australians affected, that's roughly 1 million people.  


Those with ADHD also show periods of impaired executive functioning (EF), which is the various limitations, in planning and organising, when completing a high skilled task that is found in individuals with ADHD. This means individuals with ADHD may have the following:


  1. Difficulties organising and completing tasks. 

  2. Limited focus and attention on a task.

  3. A delayed ability to absorb information and process that information to complete the task.

  4. When a task is incomplete they struggle to manage and identify emotion.

What are the current treatments most commonly used for the management of ADHD?

The current treatments most commonly used for individuals with ADHD include:


1. Medication: 

  • Medications should only be used when symptoms and impairments are considered severe or if the individual with moderate symptoms refuses medication. 

  • Not all people with ADHD require medication. 

  • Various medications such as methylphenidate will only be considered when based on the level of impairment. 


2. Behavioural

  • Behavioural treatment has shown to improve in areas where medication is less effective and it has also shown to reduce the symptoms when combined with medication.

  • Therefore behavioural treatment should be considered in the long term plan with or without medication

Why is physical exercise a promising intervention for individuals with ADHD?

Physical exercise is a promising intervention for individuals with ADHD because physical exercise may not only have the short term effect on the symptoms of ADHD but have a cellular change in the mechanisms and development regions of the brain.

Research provides two key points of evidence for the potential utility of physical exercise in developing new strategies for treating ADHD.

These two key points of evidence are:


  1. Physical exercise produces an increase in dopamine and norepinephrine which is similar to that of medication. However medication can cause an unbalance of dopamine and norepinephrine (which could potentially be a cause of ADHD). Exercise has the potential to regulate this and has a possibility of improving executive functioning. 

  2. The second key point is based on an experimental study on healthy adults. This showed that physical exercises improve executive functioning.

What are some of the research supported effects of exercise on ADHD?

Physical exercise had a somewhat larger effect on motor skills in comparison with exercise function. This was expected given that motor skills measured in the included studies, namely, speed, lack of motor persistence, strength, object control, and so on, are directly targeted and trained during exercise interventions.


It is important to note that the effect of exercise on motor skills is large and comparable with the effect sizes generated by stimulant medication.

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