How sporting activities like martial arts and boxing can help kids with ADHD

The benefits of sporting activities are more than just physical for those with ADHD.
The benefits of sporting activities are more than just physical for those with ADHD.

Exercise has both physical and mental benefits, and has an added benefit for those with ADHD. A previous Health24 article notes that in children with ADHD, regular exercise significantly reduces the severity of ADHD symptoms and provides an enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function.

The study’s head researcher, professor Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois, said that physical activity is a good investment for all children, especially for kids who are hyperactive.

The ADHD brain has low levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters impact things like motivation and the ability to think clearly. With physical activity, however, there is better brain function and focus as neurotransmitter levels are elevated. 

Another 2018 pilot study that examined the effects of physical exercise on attention while participants were engaged in a continuous task also found that attention was enhanced by arousal through exercise.  

Research suggests that a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity cardio produces the right level of neurotransmitters as well as the special protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). All kinds of exercise, however, benefits ADHD brains, and especially sporting activities like martial arts teach helpful, practical skills. 

Boxing and martial arts benefits the ADHD brain

In a BBC article, a group of teenagers with ADHD explain how their experience with boxing helps them channel their excess energy. Levi, a 14-year-old boy, said that the diagnosis and medication are helpful, but “it’s the boxing that really helps as I’m always so full of energy and struggle to concentrate”.

Since ADHD is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to control impulsive behaviours and pay attention to things, martial arts and boxing centre heavily on mental discipline and use repetitive motions to teach techniques and emphasise the connection between one’s body and mind, explains Evolve Daily.

Apart from improving one’s mental health, it teaches focus, patience and perseverance that can carry over into one’s personal and professional life. This is why the activity can be beneficial for those with ADHD. Taunton, a town in England, has a boxing club for kids with ADHD. The idea came from Ray Oliveira Jr. (27) who was also diagnosed with ADHD at the age of four. He developed an interest in pugilism (boxing) as an outlet for his energy and frustration. 

Developing an exercise programme that fits the ADHD lifestyle requires motivation and consistency. This may be challenging at first, but incorporating a variety of activities can help the process along. 

Image: iStock

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