Move More, Live Better – The Power of Physical Activity

Are you one of us ADHD:ers with grand plans for training that never gets executed? Maybe your life is a constant struggle to carve out breaks and pauses. And the mere thought of spending precious quality time exercising seems too masochistic? Or do you use exercise as a universal remedy for stress to a degree where it becomes unhealthy or harmful? 

You are not alone! 

This week’s blog is about exercise and the ADHD curse of the inability to do things in moderation. Also, new research comes with great news for ADHD:ers! 

The struggle of should do’s

You must have been living under a rock to have missed that physical activity is good for your health and that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of morbidity and mortality. 

Indeed, this fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by most people with ADHD either. And still, it’s SO hard to establish healthy routines around exercise. The dissonance between what we should do and what actually gets done, is a painful and shameful reminder of the core difficulties of ADHD. 

According to international guidelines, exercise should consist of 150–300 minutes per week at moderate intensity or 75–100 minutes at high intensity. 

But what if this is too tall an order for those of us who struggle with even getting off the coach? And is it a waste of time and energy for those who only exercise a little and do not reach these target intervals?

Breaking down the research – all exercise is good!

Here comes the good news! A recent study examining the relationship between the level of leisure-time physical activity and serious health care outcomes including more than 750,000 adults followed for over 10 years shows that 

a) those who meet or exceed the target intervals reduce their risk of stroke by 29 % and 
b) those who exercised in their leisure time but didn’t reach the target intervals reduced their risk with 18 %1

Therefore, this study supports the old saying that “all exercise is good exercise”. Indeed, Maria Hagströmer Professor in Physiotherapy at the Division of Physiotherapy at Karolinska Institutet argues 

“…that the greatest health benefits may be obtained by those who transition from being sedentary to becoming slightly more physically active2. “

Finding the balance

This is good and important news for us ADHD:ers!
Because even though research indicates a dose-response relationship between health benefits and physical activity, the relationship is not linear. Rather, the health benefits of physical activity reach a plateau. Where adding more exercise doesn’t automatically generate better health outcomes or lower risks. 

You may have other reasons for exercising more than the recommended target intervals, such as reducing anxiety mentally, improving sleep quality or training for a race. But in terms of the risk of illness, it may not matter much.

So, if you exercise to keep mental health symptoms at arm’s length, make sure you also have other strategies at hand if you for physical or other reasons are prevented from being physically active. 

The winner – from inactive to active

In summary, the great news is that those who go from being inactive to moving, even if it’s only a little, are the ones who have the most to gain!

Engaging in physical activity is beneficial for both children and older adults. It not only lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. But also helps in reducing mental health problems such as toxic worrying and anxiety. Moreover, physical activity promotes better sleep and cognitive functions.

Moderation is key

Hopefully, you have found your way of including exercise in your ADHD self-care toolbox. And most likely you have many other tools there as well. Even though the benefits of exercising are unquestionable, it also can become “too much of a good thing”. And you may have good reasons, such as previous eating disorders or orthorexia, for being careful around exercise. 

The golden rule of ADHD “moderation before optimizing or maximizing” applies to training as well. 

You’ll find some of our best lifehacks for exercising with moderation in this week’s Mindhub articles in the app. If you follow them correctly, they will improve both your physical health and your ADHD symptoms!

  1. De Santis F, Romoli M, Foschi M, Sciancalepore FD, D’Anna L, Barba L, Abu-Rumeileh S, Sacco S, Ornello R. Risk of stroke with different levels of leisure-time physical activity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2024 Mar 5:jnnp-2023-332457. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2023-332457. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38443158. https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/early/2024/01/18/jnnp-2023-332457 ↩︎
  2. https://www.dn.se/sverige/forskning-visar-pa-den-lilla-motionens-stora-fordelar/ ↩︎
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