In kindergarten, my desire to get up and walk around, my general restlessness, resulted in me getting diagnosed with ADHD. My parents didn't want to put me on medication. Instead, they decided to try experimental biofeedback therapy. The doctors also recommended that I exercise.
According to Healthline, "Exercise is a top nonpharmaceutical ADHD treatment, as it can promote dopamine release, improve executive function, and alter BDNF signaling. In children with ADHD, it has been shown to improve attention and decrease aggression and impulsiveness." From that moment on, my parents and I were on a mission to find which types of exercises I would most enjoy and could stick with.
For the next decade, swimming and water polo became a part of my life. After school, I swam for an hour. My weekends were dedicated to swim meets. In high school, I joined the varsity swim and water polo team and was either at the gym or in the water for at least four hours a day. Burned out after graduation, I took a break and spent the rest of my adult life in pursuit of exercises that I would enjoy. I quickly learned that elliptical machines and treadmills were not for me.
The types of exercises that work best for people with ADHD require a fast pace and ever-changing stimuli. I hate feeling like a hamster on a wheel and get bored very quickly. I've tried many different types of exercises and these are my favorites:
Best Exercises for ADHD
Hiking and Bike Riding
Any type of activity that involves being in nature, exploring and being adventurous is a win in my book. I get so immersed in my surroundings when I am hiking, riding a bike or exploring nature that I can easily exercise all day and not even feel like it. The changing landscapes and the feeling of accomplishment at tackling hills and other unexpected obstacles provide a much-needed dopamine hit that keeps me engaged and wanting more.
Bike riding also includes stationery bikes, especially in classes like SoulCycle with very upbeat music, different tempos and a motivational instructor. Getting on a stationery bike without the class element is much less fun for me.
Zumba or Other Dance Class
Maybe it's the group element or the fact that the music changes every few minutes, but my time in Zumba and any other dance class zips by. I've tried hip hop, modern dance and Bollywood and they all kept me engaged. When I'm dancing, an entire hour can pass before I check the time.
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT alternates between several minutes of high intensity movements to significantly increase heart rate, followed by short periods of lower intensity movements. Because the segments are short, fast and change quickly, this exercise is great for ADHD brains. My local 24 Hour Fitness offers a class called Strong Nation that I'm a huge fan of. It incorporates martial arts with high intensity sections that keeps things moving along quickly so I never get bored. Try it at home with a Youtube video or check out a class at your nearest gym.
At first glance, swimming laps might not be the most fun. What makes it a great choice, however, is that you can do short spurts of intense exercise (50 yards) and take a break. You can also switch up strokes to keep things interesting. Swimming is also a wonderful option for anyone easing back into exercise after a long break because it's easy on the joints.
Kickboxing or Body Combat
Have you ever wanted to feel like a badass ninja in a video game? A body combat or kickboxing class might be just what you need. When I take my combat class, I feel so strong and focused for the rest of the day, like I can conquer anything. That's hugely important for people with ADHD who might feel like the cards are stacked against them and have a difficult time accomplishing their goals.
And that's five of the best exercises for ADHD brains. These are my absolutely favorites that I enjoy on a daily basis. Which one is your go-to?