Beginning an Exercise Program for People with ADHD

Health Writer

We have written on numerous occasions about the benefits of exercise for those with ADHD. Exercise helps to reduce impulsiveness and improve your ability to pay attention and focus. It helps improve your mood, lifts depression and reduces stress and anxiety. For those with ADHD, the benefits of exercise have been touted by a number of well known experts, including Dr. John Ratey and Dr. Peter Jaksa. If you have looked into ADHD, read books about it or spoken to your doctor about natural ways to help control symptoms, you probably already know that exercise helps. ADHD aside, we all know that regular exercise helps keep us healthy.

Why You Don't Exercise Even Though You Know You Should

If knowing something is good for you was enough to make us participate in a healthier lifestyle, we would all exercise, eat only well-balanced meals with plenty of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables. No one would smoke or drink too much. Each of us would take care to care for our bodies, minds and souls every day. But unfortunately, just knowing something is good for us doesn't always make us want to do it.

And of course, for those with ADHD, procrastination is often a big problem. Deborah, a Health Guide at Health Central, puts it this way, "It's amazing how when you're procrastination, all of a sudden the other things that you've been putting off get prioritized really high." So even though you know you should exercise, know it is good for you, know it will help you, you just don't want to do it right now. Anything else sounds better and you remember that you desperately need to clean your bathroom; exercising can wait until later.

In his book, Get Moving - The ADHD Workout Book, Dr. Peter Jaksa also talks about how our negative self talk can stop us from beginning an exercise program. For example, you may tell yourself you are too old, too out of shape, don't have time, too lazy or that you just know you will fail at it. All of these thoughts stop you before you even begin and the only way to get rid of these thoughts is to replace them with more productive thoughts. "Of course I am busy, but 15 minutes a day is doable" or "I may be out of shape now, but if I put in a few minutes of exercise each day I know I will start feeling better." Dr. Jaksa suggests writing down those thoughts that are stopping you and coming up with a more positive thought, or solution, for each one. As you find yourself thinking one of the negative thoughts, read the more positive thought several times. Keep reminding yourself of why you should exercise.

Getting Started with an Exercise Program

Now that you know why you keep putting off exercising, it's time to put some solutions into action. It's time to just do it! Look over your schedule and decide on a time you can do your first workout. Find a time when you can workout at the same time all the time. While you may prefer exercising "when you have time," you probably won't follow through. You need to set aside a specific time each day or the same time several times a week. Commitment is important and setting aside time for exercise helps you with commitment.

Find a structured program. You may find it easier to join a gym and have a set routine, follow an exercise DVD or use WiFitness or other video game exercise programs, you may want to go for a run, take a speed walk or join an exercise class. Think about what will work for you (and what hasn't worked in the past). Finding the right structured program for your situation will help you stick with it. Of course, if you haven't been exercising or have health conditions, talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program to find out what is best for you.

Lastly, set goals. Many times we fail at what we set out to do because we don't have specific goals in mind. We wander through activities without defining their purpose. Dr. Jaksa points out that goals should follow the SMART principal: specific, measurable action-oriented, realistic and timed. Some tips for helping you set goals:

  • Choose one goal at a time, you will stay more focused it you have only one goal.
  • Use short-term goals rather than long-term goals.
  • Write your goal down.
  • Accept that setbacks may occur but they are not a reason to abandon your program, they are ony temporary setbacks.
  • Create a plan of action: what are you going to do and   when are you going to do it.

By making an exercise program a priority in your life and setting aside time each day or several times per week, you will eventually make it a part of your new lifestyle. It will become part of your day.


"ADD / ADHD Treatment and Help", Reviewed 2010, Feb, Jocelyn Block, M.A., and Melinda Smith, M.A.,

"Dr. John Ratey Discusses Exercise and ADHD in New Book", 2008, March 27, Terry Matlen,

Excerpt from Get Moving! - The ADHD Workout Book, Peter Jaksa, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Bush, M.S. ADHD Centers