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Hey everyone. Welcome back to The Testing Psychologist podcast. Glad to be here as always.
Today is the first episode in the newly announced ADHD Series. If you missed the announcement from last week, this is a series that I’m going to be embarking on over the next 2 to 3 months where[00:01:00] the Monday episode is typically reserved for clinical topics are going to be supplanted with an ADHD takeover. So I’m going to be doing a series of short but hopefully helpful episodes on ADHD topics.
Today’s topic is all about exercise and ADHD. How can exercise help ADHD? I’ll be talking about the physiological benefits, the cognitive benefits, and get into a little bit of what kind of exercise is best when you’re talking about individuals with ADHD. So stay tuned.
For those of you who own private practices or would like to own a private practice, I would encourage you to think about a Testing Psychologist Mastermind Group. I hear so often from practice owners that it is isolating and nobody understands [00:02:00] running a testing practice. Those are two problems that these groups solve.
These mastermind groups are just for testing practice owners at every stage of development: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. If you would like to learn more and maybe jump into one of these groups, we’re continually enrolling cohorts. So go to thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting and schedule a pre-group call. We’ll talk and see if one of the groups could be a good fit for you.
All right. Let’s jump to this episode on ADHD and exercise.[00:03:00] Okay. Like I said in the intro, today, I am talking all about ADHD and exercise. As I mentioned in the announcement episode two weeks ago or last week, these are not meant to be super comprehensive. The research on a number of these ADHD topics is quite dense. So I’m just trying to do a quick summary tapping into hopefully the most recent research on a lot of these topics to give some idea of how to think about each of these in the context of ADHD.
Today we’re talking all about exercise. This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart because I would be a completely different and much less pleasant person without a regular exercise routine. Now, I don’t think that I have ADHD, but exercise [00:04:00] is beneficial for everyone. It’s about as close as we get to having a free cure for almost any mental health concern. I’m exaggerating a little bit obviously, but exercise is a huge beneficial activity and it’s relatively easy to engage in in the sense that it can be free and you could do it from your own home. So barriers to entry are relatively low compared to some other interventions that we have.
But related to ADHD, I like talking about exercise because it is an easy thing to discuss when people say, what if I don’t want to do medication, or what if we don’t want to medicate our kid? And in those situations, I can say, well, research says that medication is pretty helpful and I would recommend it, but if you want to stay away from it, here’s something you could try instead. It’s super easy. It’s a go-to [00:05:00] answer that is relatively palatable for most folks. It’s hard to argue with.
There are a number of non-medical interventions for ADHD, but this is my go-to, like I said, because it’s easy, it’s convenient, and a lot of kids with ADHD are active anyway. So it’s a matter of channeling that activity into the right place.
All right. Let’s talk about some of the body benefits of exercise.
Many kids and adults experience some amount of hyperactivity and impulsivity during their lives. We know that individuals with ADHD also often have trouble with motor skills, like coordinating movements, sustaining motor behaviors, visual motor coordination, and [00:06:00] inhibitory control. So, exercise taps into a lot of these skills and can reportedly help improve many of these areas.
Now, you can’t just do anything. I think that’s important to emphasize. A recent meta-analysis found that “moderate to vigorous exercise” helps to improve motor skills like just overall motor speed, strength, and body control at a pretty high level, almost equal to medication.
We also know that getting quality exercise also helps get good sleep. Sleep is a whole other episode that I will be doing down the road, but [00:07:00] for now, I think it’s safe to say that getting good exercise helps you get good sleep. Good sleep helps improve ADHD symptoms or just helps with concentration, motivation, and focus. So good sleep is always a positive thing.
So lots of body benefits. But again, it has to be moderate to vigorous exercise. It’s tough to define exactly what that looks like, but think 20 to 30 minutes of relatively high heart rate exercise will help get some of these benefits.
Let’s take a break to hear from our featured partner.
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Let’s get back to the podcast.
Now, what about the cognitive side of things?
On the cognitive side of things, exercise can also be beneficial. That same meta-analysis that I was referring to revealed that there are very positive effects from exercise for attention and reaction time.
Now, attention is a pretty broad term. I wish that we could define that a little better in this context, but[00:09:00] I take that to mean sustained attention and focus. So this is good news, but maybe, like I said, a bit theoretical. So let’s take it to a very real situation, which is school.
There is some research out there to say that engaging in consistent exercise led to improved academic performance for kids. The cool thing about this is that exercise even improved academic performance more than if the kids had spent that time in class or studying.
So this is just another reason to not let anybody take away your child’s recess time. This is why when parents come and they say that the school has taken away recess as a punishment for [00:10:00] “bad behavior” related to ADHD, impulsivity or chatting or disrupting class or whatever, not getting homework done, I have a strong reaction to that. And there is some research to back that up that exercise is actually going to improve academic performance more than if the kid had been in class the whole time. So, there are some cognitive benefits as well.
Now, you may have heard about how exercise and learning go together. There’s some good research out there showing that when you are exercising, you are learning, remembering information better, and consolidating information better. So that’s another benefit. There are some data to suggest that folks who exercise regularly have larger hippocampal volume among other things.
So [00:11:00] there’s some good data to support exercise as a vehicle for enhancing learning as well. I know for me, when I’m running, that’s the time when I engage in some serious problem-solving. I feel like I can focus. I can think more clearly. I feel like I can sort through problems that are otherwise complex that are difficult to answer. There are some real benefits to that. And so, again, even for those of us who may not have ADHD, exercise has some great benefits for thinking and concentrating.
So what kind of exercise is best?
There are a ton of ways for people to get good exercise. I think at least with parents, most people feel [00:12:00] compelled to enroll their kids in organized sports, but that may not be the best option honestly. Some organized sports actually border on sedentary. I’m thinking about baseball, for example, where there’s a lot of standing around; even football if you know your kids on the sideline or not playing, obviously. So you want to find a sport that is actually active.
The second issue is that your kid might actually experience a decline in self-esteem if they aren’t good at that sport, and that’s not what we’re going for.
So the best activities to pursue are those that provide moderate to high exertion coupled with cognitive problem-solving. Good examples that I always recommend include rock climbing, basketball, martial arts, and dancing. All these could be great options.
I recommend swimming [00:13:00] quite a bit as well. That’s less problem solving, but it is pretty high exertion and kids can be with other kids without necessarily being on a team and being highly involved with the other kids on the swim team. Shooting for one hour a day would be amazing. It can be broken up into shorter, separate activities. And if you could, this is a bonus, again for kids, just try to fit it in before the school day, if at all possible.
In summary, exercise is good. It’s particularly good for kids with ADHD because it does tackle both the motor. skill area and the cognitive area. There’s some good research to support improvements in both of those areas. And it’s [00:14:00] relatively easy. A trampoline in the backyard can go a long way.
That’s it for our episode today. It might be obvious that exercise is helpful, but it’s nice to spell it out. At least for me, there are many times when I will make recommendations without knowing the details of exactly why they’re helpful. So hopefully, this helps fill in some gaps and give you a little more justification for recommending exercise for both kids and adults.
All right. I will leave you with that. Stay tuned for more business episodes on Thursdays, of course, and this continuing ADHD series on Mondays for the next several weeks.
And as I said at the beginning, if you [00:15:00] are a practice owner looking for support from other testing practice owners, check out The Testing Psychologist Mastermind groups. You can schedule a pre-group call at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting.
All right. Until next time.
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