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Exercise and ADD

by on October 16, 2009
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Just read an interesting Medscape interview with Prof. John J. Ratey in regards to attention-deficit disorder (also called attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and exercise.

According to Dr. Ratey ADD effects 8 to 10% of children and about the same number of adults and is now considered a bioligical brain disorder and may have genetic roots.

He says that the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine are drivers of the attention system and that exercise increases the concentration of both of these chemicals, as well as others.

Dr. Ratey believes that “a dose of exercise is like taking a bit of methylphenidate (Ritalin®) or amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall®); it’s similar to taking a stimulant.”

Furthermore, he says, exercise  makes the brain better at making these neurotransmitters over time as well as their postsynaptic receptors. The more you exercise the more the system grows.

Although studies on the relationship between exercise and dopamine/norepinephrine have been going on for some time, studies regarding exercise and ADD specifically are just now getting under way. But the doctor believes that chronic exercise is much like a medication for this disorder and that whatever treatment is begun; exercise should be a part of that.

He recommends strength training and aerobic training but also says that balance training is important for ADD. Yoga or Tai Chi, or other balance exercise. But just 10 to 15 minute exercise breaks thoughout the day could be very helpful.

He mentions Michael Phelps as an athlete who’s training has helped him overcome ADD.

Sounds promising and, really, exercise is good for everyone. So who wouldn’t want their child to try, at least, to replace some of the medication with exercise? But what struck me the most was not the potential effect of exercise on the the biology but what Dr. Ratey said about it’s effect on outlook. It prevents “learned helplessness” in a child who has been convinced he is doomed to fail.

What more can you ask?

John J. Ratey, M.D. is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Ratey is author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, as well as several related books in the popular press. He also has consulted on clinical studies pertaining to exercise and psychiatric conditions.

P.S. to view articles on Medscape you need an account. It’s free.

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