Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D. is the Founder and President of Potomac Psychiatry, ranked “Best Psychiatry Care Provider in Maryland” in 2020 by Global Health & Pharma. He has been named a Washingtonian Magazine “Top Doctor” for each of the past eight years. Dr. Kehr is a best-selling author whose works have been read by over 800,000 people in 206 countries. In 2020, Dr. Bruce Kehr’s blog was ranked #2 in the nation among mental health-related blogs. Dr. Kehr’s book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self-Love, is an Amazon Best Seller in the self-help categories: Happiness, Counseling, Healing, and Self-Esteem.
Regular exercise has a variety of beneficial effects on differing emotional disorders in both children and adults. First, let’s consider its effects on Attention Deficit Disorder. According to a recent article in Medscape, ADD affects at least 8%-10% of children, and almost as many adults. It’s now considered a biological brain disorder and may have genetic components. Exercise increases the concentration of both dopamine and norepinephrine, as well as other brain chemicals. Norepinephrine and dopamine are both believed to be drivers of the attention system. Therefore, a dose of exercise is like taking a bit of methylphenidate (Ritalin®) or amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall® or Vyvanse®) – it’s similar to taking a stimulant.
Over time exercise has two additional benefits – it helps to increase the quantity of neurotransmitters in the brain as well as increasing the number of brain cell receptors that respond to the neurotransmitters. Chronic exercise eventually causes growth of the attentional system circuitry. The more fit that you are, the better the attentional system will work.
Exercise activates the frontal cortex, home to executive brain function, in all age groups. Many ADD symptoms are related to the brain’s executive functions which are located in the frontal cortex.
Neurology is paying more attention to exercise. It appears that exercise may help protect against some of the symptoms in Alzheimer’s as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Exercise is increasingly gaining respect as a treatment option in ADD. Historically, it started in cardiology studies, where psychologists noted that the people in cardiac rehab following heart attacks were improving emotionally as well as physically. The psychologists looked at depression, anxiety, hostility, aggression, and stress in people who started an exercise regimen for cardiac protection or healing, and found improvements in a number of these symptoms.
Someone with ADD could benefit from an exercise break of 10 minutes every hour or so. It helps everyone, not just patients with ADD. Exercise doesn’t have to be for very long each time, just enough time to get the heart rate up for at least a few minutes. Benefits persist for a while after exercise. Doctors should advise patients to exercise at least once daily, once they are medically approved for strenuous physical exertion. Whatever medical treatment has begun, exercise needs to be included, too. Aerobic and strength training is fine. Balance training is important in patients with ADD and can be accomplished with yoga, tai chi, or balance exercises. Exercise needs to become a lifestyle, a habit that is positive and enjoyable.
A number of patients who exercise regularly are able to come off their ADD medication completely, while others may successfully reduce the dosage and find equivalent benefits to the higher dosage. In people who have trouble finding the right medication regimen, exercise can also really help. The exercises chosen should be fun so that you will want to do them.
Finally, there is a spectrum of severity in ADD. There are plenty of marathon runners who still need medicine. A number of super athletes have ADD. A prime example today is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who was diagnosed at the age of 9 and put on medicine. He found it impossible to stay still in school because of ADD. Then he began swimming. When he got up to 3 hours of daily exercise, he didn’t need medication anymore.
Many of the children suffering from ADD also develop a “learned helplessness syndrome.” They’ve failed so much in the past with respect to their school work, and at times in important relationships, that they continually expect to fail. As a result of the learned helplessness, they may get depressed, use drugs, or play video games all day. Exercise prevents these children from getting into these maladaptive ways of living. According to Medscape, animal studies have shown that exercise makes it tougher to develop learned helplessness.
In conclusion, ADD, Depression, Heart Health and other positive medicinal benefits come from regular exercise. In advance of beginning any strenuous exercise program you should first be examined by your doctor, and build up the duration and intensity of the program gradually over time. You will feel better, have a sharper focus, and feel more satisfied with your life!
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