Exercising ADHD away?

Bicycling has an article about a young man who controls attention deficit and hyperactivity through exercise.

Adam was a rambunctious kid, but his behavior didn’t strike them as unusual. Adam’s ADHD wasn’t extreme or debilitating, the assistant principal told the Leibovitzes. But that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The boy’s condition was acute enough to cause learning problems but mild enough that he’d likely slip through the system’s safety net for special-needs students….

His parents worried that he wouldn’t keep up. “As he grew older, every year he’d be expected to concentrate a little harder and sit a little longer in his seat,” his mother says. “When it came time to do his homework, he’d be rolling around under the table or running into the next room. He’d shout out the answers to us. He always knew the answers. He just couldn’t sit still to write them down.”…

For the past 30 years, athletes, coaches, sports psychologists and medical researchers have probed and debated one of the most complex mysteries of the human body: How does exercise affect the brain? Common sense and our own experience tell us it does something. Every parent knows the best way to settle down a hopped-up kid is to take him out to the playground and run the bug juice out of him. A generation ago, teachers and coaches frequently used this approach as well.

This seemed a homespun, intuitive remedy, but in fact there was a scientific basis for it. In 1978, two years before the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recognized ADHD as a condition, W. Mark Shipman, MD, conducted a simple test. Shipman was medical director of the San Diego Center for Children, an institute for psychologically troubled children. Back then, kids at the center were among the few in the United States taking psychostimulants such as Ritalin to calm what was then called hyperactivity. Kids can be naturally impulsive, inattentive and overactive, but those with ADHD are more so, all the time. (ADHD is an umbrella term that also includes ADD, attention deficit disorder.)

Shipman sent a group of hyperactive kids running for as much as 45 minutes a day, four days a week. An amazing thing happened: The running kids started acting as if they were getting extra doses of medication. After a while, the doctors who monitored the behavior of each child began lowering drug doses for most of the runners. Very few nonrunning participants had their doses reduced. The doctors who were administering the doses didn’t know which students were running; the changes in behavior were that clear.

Shipman’s study might have led to a boom in physical fitness programs for ADHD-identified kids. It didn’t. Instead, just the opposite occurred: Doctors began writing more prescriptions.

Read more.

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