Doctor's Note

Other benefits of exercise include a strengthening of cancer defenses (Exercise & Breast Cancer and Is It the Diet, the Exercise, or Both?), an improvement in cognition (Reversing Cognitive Decline), and a longer lifespan (What Women Should Eat to Live Longer).

This reminds me of other safe, natural, side-effect free solutions like tap water gargling to prevent the common cold (Can Gargling Prevent the Common Cold?) and drinking water to improve scholastic performance in kids (Does a Drink of Water Make Children Smarter?). The fact that they are cost-free is both an advantage (they're free!) and disadvantage (no corporate budget driving their promotion so we never hear about this kind of research). If only corporations could find a way to stuff exercise into a pill bottle for their stockholders…

For more context, check out my associated blog post: How to Treat ADHD Without Drugs.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • John C. Smith

    Speaking as an adult sufferer of ADHD: 60 to 90 minutes is not going to cut it. There is no recess for me to enjoy when I have to work a shift. I can’t pop by the gym and pump out a work out every 60 to 90 minutes when I spend a day at college.

    That doesn’t mean that I DON’T engage in exercise for all the other stated benefits. It’s just a bit annoying to have people demean a legitimate condition with a legitimate medication.

    • BeetsBeansButts

      I don’t think he is being demeaning. I think what Dr. Greger is doing is demonstrating the evidence that exercise can be used as a sort of effective treatment for ADHD, while demonstrating the negative side-effects of medications. That doesn’t necessarily mean medications are a bad choice.

      But I know what you mean. People often tell me that they don’t think ADHD actually exists. That somehow a lack of attention is due to a lack of willpower or something.

      I am in Med School now, and I don’t think I would have made it here without medication.

      I feel for you John Smith. Attention issues are rough.

    • lena98765

      I don’t think it’s demeaning, Dr Greger also posts about treating migraines without medication for example, that doesn’t mean he says migraines aren’t a legitimate condition.
      That said, I totally agree that the fact that exercise only works for an hour or so makes it practically worthless as a treatment for ADHD. At best you could say that if you had a test coming up and had the possibility to do some exercise right before that, it might be a good idea to do that. But for day to day life, work and study, people need something that works for 8 hours, not 1.

      • Kimberly

        You know what that says to me, assuming you’re correct in saying that medications are necessary in order to function in this society? That perhaps society is the problem, and that we need to restructure things so that all people, of all kinds, from the hyper-focused to those constantly needing to explore new things, etc. can function optimally. Seems ludicrous to me that we should expect all children to be able to sit still for hours every day, learn in the highly rigid, controlling way we’ve decided is appropriate (rather than letting them pursue their own interests, making the material more exciting, encouraging and fostering true excellence rather than praising meaningless achievement, etc.).

        • sf_jeff

          Yes and no. I agree completely that kids will do far better if they pursue what they are fascinated about, but unfortunately, there are some things that kids don’t want to learn but need to. It would be nice if there was a way to create that fascination for new topics.

          Also, regarding meaningless achievements. Praise and criticism should be on what they did, not who they are. Young chess players who were told they were brilliant when they one a game had a much more fragile attitude than you chess players who were congratulated for working hard.

    • Tan

      The video doesn’t claim ADHD isn’t legitimate. It also states that medication and exercise both work, while stating the obvious extra benefits of exercise. That’s far from a “demeaning” or bold statement.

    • Truth

      Make time. Your boss isn’t the owner of you and maybe you could be a little more creative about exercise instead of taking like you’re a slave.

    • sf_jeff

      Another way of looking at it is that exercise plus medication might work better than education alone.

      I have read about top chess professionals that were having trouble concentrating in an important tournament and fixed the problem by walking into the hallway and sprinting for 30-60 seconds.

  • BeetsBeansButts

    I take Adderal occasionally. Diagnosed as a kid.

    I usually medicate with coffee and tea, which probably have lower side effects than AMPS.

    I’m not an expert on ADHD, but it seems to me that severity can vary, and that the struggle can be task dependent. i.e. I can cook just fine, but I struggle organizing my thoughts enough to clean my room.

    I commute by bike. Now that I read this, yeah it is easier for me to task in that time period right after I get to my destination.

    I think that we could be helping kids with ADHD in identifying what tasks they think they need the medication for, and what tasks they can manage without medication.

    • BeetsBeansButts

      Dr. Greger.

      Is there any evidence that caffeine is an effective treatment for ADHD?

      In the mean time I can use it as a reason to drink more green tea.

  • B

    I’m a psychotherapist and have had ADD symptoms throughout my life. In studying and exploring various natural and alternative treatments for this I’ve found a number of very helpful things. Not just exercise, but various movements that activate cross-hemispheric stimulation are very good, like walking & biking. There are exercises called Edu-K that have been used with kids that involve simple left-right alternating movements and something as simple as tossing a ball or hackey sack back and forth, left to right hand, following the movement with your eyes has a calming and centering effect.

    I’ve focused on foods that can increase dopamine levels; walnuts, wheat germ, dark chocolate (cocoa powder), oats, and fava beans. I also drink a lot of strong green tea (in the form of matcha green tea powder) which gives me an alert calmness and clarity of mind. The original prescription drug for ADHD was called Deaner. Ritalin made it obsolete and it’s no longer a prescription med, but is available as a nutraceutical supplement called DMAE (I get a vegan formulation). It’s a chemical found in sardines and anchovies, has a mild stimulant effect and has been written about as a “smart drug”.

    I don’t thing there’s a lot of specific research on these things, but with myself and coaching others with ADHD, have found them to be safe and helpful alternatives to amphetamines for many people.

  • Dan Lundeen

    This is not that surprising! Intense exercise is known to grow brain cells, reduce anxiety and ameliorate depression etc. See http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/how-exercise-can-calm-anxiety/
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/magazine/how-exercise-could-lead-to-a-better-brain.html?pagewanted=all

    Why not employ a tool that has only beneficial side effects?

    • LynnCS

      Because most of us/me, will exercise as a last resort when we feel all scattered. All I want to do is get straightened out and calm.

  • B

    In my original post I mentioned Edu-K exercises to help with ADHD and didn’t realize that this was an old term for what is better known as “Brain Gym”. You’ll find much more info on this if you Google, Brain Gym ADHD.

  • Felina

    My daughter is eleven and takes Adderal. We really didn’t want to use medication with her, but she begged for it because she was struggling so much. In the end we agreed to let her try it because, she knows her body better than we do. She gets on average about two hours of strenuous exercise daily, sometimes more, as she has a black belt in martial arts and both attends and teaches classes. She takes the lowest dose possible, and it flushes out of the system quickly. For her, it’s like night and day. It makes a huge difference for her, and her reading skills are now almost up to grade level. So far she’s had zero side effects, and done amazingly well on it.

  • Southlander

    Anyone can find and excuse NOT TO EXERCISE. Your objective is to find an REASON/EXCUSE TO EXERCISE and, exercise is not just pumping iron. Walking, stretching, isometrics, biking to work etc. are all forms of exercise. Don and I CAN! :-))

  • Shan Leamon

    ADD and ADHD have been linked to other conditions, as well. I have had severe ADD since I was a kid. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and started a gluten-free and eventually gluten-free vegan diet, my symptoms became much more manageable.

    It just depends on the person. Exercise works for some people and not others like many treatments.

  • Ronald Chavin

    Exercise can have bad side effects too. (1)Exercise greatly increases oxidative stress in the short term. Studies have shown that people who exercised after eating plants got much more benefit and much less harm from the exercise compared to people who exercised without the presence of plant-based antioxidants in their blood. (2)The numerous benefits of exercising regularly are all completely lost after a person stops exercising for only 3 months. In other words, people who exercised continually for several years will revert back to exactly what they would have been if they had never exercised if they quit exercising for only 3 months. To retain the numerous benefits of exercise, people would need to exercise continually and never quit until the day they die. (3)Exercise wastes time and decreases comfort during life. (4)People who exercise regularly suffer from more injuries, accidents, and even crimes compared to people who don’t exercise. Stress fractures have been shown to be much more common among people who exercise. Fatal heart attacks can be triggered by exercise. Joggers have been shown to suffer from knee injuries due to wear and tear and increased arthritis. Accidents and crimes are leading causes of death.

    For example, Jane Higdon, Ph. D., who worked for the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University as their most respected nutritional author, died painfully after being run over by a truck while exercising with her bicycle on a beautiful road:
    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/fw06/memoriam.html
    http://www.janehigdonfoundation.com/
    http://www.janehigdonfoundation.com/jane.php
    http://www.kval.com/news/local/26122154.html
    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/zinc/
    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminB12/
    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/

    Jane Higdon’s sudden death at age 47 reminds us that Exercise Can Heal, Exercise Can Kill.

    • Martyn

      Exercise wastes time and decreases comfort during life? You sir, are an idiot.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

        Please no ad hominem attacks. Everyone has the right to express their opinion.

  • Mivrach

    If that was true no hyperactive child would ever had attention-deficit.

  • http://www.lanimuelrath.com/ Lani Muelrath

    There are so many good reasons to exercise I am always happy to see new angles of evidence for the benefits of being active animals. For a thorough report of the effects of physical activity on symptoms of ADHD – and a whole list of other challenges assisted by activity – Ratey’s book Spark is a must read. Thanks for underscoring the connection, Dr. Greger.

    Lani Muelrath

    • LynnCS

      Thanks, Lani, for the book suggestion. Sounds like a great read.

  • Dr Michael Bell

    What is the evidence to prove that stimulants help ADHD issues?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      Actually the evidence based on studies shows no long term benefit. I would highly recommend that you read Robert Whitaker’s book, The Anatomy of an Epidemic, especially chapter 11.. The epidemic spreads to children. His book reviews the history and studies concerning the common psychiatric dx… schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar an ADHD. Given the studies he cites I can no longer recommend anti anxiety and antidepressant medications for longer then 6 weeks in adults. The use of stimulants such as Ritalin, a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, in children is something I can’t recommend. I would recommend that any physician who writes Rx’s for psychiatric medications read his book and look into the studies he cites. Patients and parents of children considering drug therapy should read the book as well. Giving children whose brains are still actively forming a drug with similar but longer acting actions to cocaine should be approached only after consideration of all the evidence and with a large dose of the precautionary principle. Physicians have a responsibilty to “first do no harm”.

      • edgeof 2

        very interesting….

  • Melody Nicole Harris

    I have attention issues and have been on an off of dexedrine for the last 15 years. This year I decided, no more. I have adapted a vegan diet, work hard to fit in an hour of exercise a day (different every day), and stopped smoking. I have never felt better and my ability to focus for long periods of time is steadily increasing. This is not coincidental. These drugs are worse than the diagnosis in my opinion. One thing that is consistent is the lies we are told with intent or without on how to best manage our health. This is because the bottom line ends in a dollar sign.

    • Thea

      Melody: Thank you for sharing your story! It’s so inspiring. Good for you for taking your health into your own hands. Diet is not a magic pill, but it sure seems like one sometimes!

      Keep up the great work. You have inspired me to try to get in a little more exercise myself. :-)

  • One Single Act

    Seeing how the brain runs exclusively on glucose (created from whole, unprocessed, fruits and vegetables) the answer to me for attention deficit disorders is pretty obvious, that person is under carbed. In this day and age of high protein, low carb diets, it’s a simple case of eating the wrong food for our design.

  • Ashley S-S

    Hi Dr. Gregor. I actually have some questions regarding Ritalin use. I am thirty years old and I have suffered from ADHD. I have never used medication because I wanted to deal with it “naturally”, and I did so for much of my adult life. I had workedin very active job roles, and while I studied my first three years of college in my mid-twenties I biked to work and school everyday a total of 16 miles. I found that during that time I contolled my ADHD spectacularly. However, the last three years I have not had such a luxury of such intense exercise before and after school/work. I have found my ability to focus extremely diminished and I have trouble retaining information as well because of it. I have recently considered trying Ritalin, but I am scared because I do not take any medications and I am very health conscious. I am vegan and still physically fit. I rock climbing 5 days per week, but I am not doing so much Cardio as before. Would you recommend Ritalin when necessary? What are the negative side effects? Do you have any other advice?

  • Guest

    I was diagnosed with this condition as a child, and struggled terribly,
    not only through school, but dozens of office desk jobs, later on. I’ve
    been off the pills, and eating a plant-based diet for over 13 years
    now, and have noticed that it does improve my condition. I’ve also
    noticed the same beneficial effects from exercise, and plenty of rest,
    as well as getting enough healthy social activity. Recently, I decided
    to take a more wholistic approach to life. And, because I spend most of
    my waking time at work, I decided that instead of (afterwards) figuring
    out how to make up for everything I was missing out on while I was at
    work, I would make those things a part of my work. I began a physically
    and intellectually demanding technology industry trade, which includes
    working
    with the public, and a fair amount of creativity. Combine that with my
    simple diet, and I have all my bases covered during the day, so I have
    plenty of free time, and can relax, take it easy, and just enjoy my
    life. I also have more money, because I’m not spending it on pills,
    doctors, or at the gym. Now, I get to work out my entire being: mind,
    body, and spirit. For me, work is rarely ever difficult, and never has
    to feel stressful or convoluted. A positive attitude, like seeing
    challenges as opportunities for personal growth makes it easier to
    stay focused on my goals. Besides, I enjoy my life the way it is now,
    and definitely feel like what I get out of it is worth the sacrifice.
    Working and eating are both things which we all have to do, and so why
    not make them something which offers more benefits, and satisfies more
    than just one need? Food has to satisfy our hunger, but can it not also
    nourish, heal and protect our bodies? It doesn’t have to be about
    eating less, and working more. It’s simply about changing what we eat,
    and what we do.