A Natural Treatment for ADHD


Have you noticed that your child’s ADHD symptoms seem better on days when he or she is more active? Is your child able to sit and focus on his or her homework more easily once he or she has run around and “burned off some energy” after school? Researchers have only recently begun studying the effects of exercise on ADHD, but results from early studies are promising. Engaging in moderate-to intense-exercise multiple days a week appears to improve ADHD symptoms, executive functioning (read more about executive functioning in my previous post), social skills, and motor control. A recent study by Dr. Betsy Hoza, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, compared two interventions in elementary schools. The first was a 30-minutes exercise intervention that included moderate- to-intense physical activity through games like tag and “sharks and minnows”. The second intervention was sedentary, and included 30-minutes of classroom art projects. Both occurred before school every day for 12 weeks. At the end of the 12-week period parent and teachers rated the children on ADHD symptoms, moodiness, social skills and motor skills. Kids in the physical activity program showed improvement in each of these areas.

Scientists aren’t sure why exercise leads to improvement in ADHD symptoms and other areas of weakness for kids with ADHD, but they have some theories. During exercise the brain releases several chemicals – serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine  - which are all important for attention and emotional control. In fact, many of the stimulant medications used to treat ADHD target these same chemicals. So, it may be this exercise “brain boost” that drives improvements in ADHD symptoms, mood, social skills, and motor control. Exercise also improves blood flow in the brain and promotes the development of new brain cells, two factors that may also lead to improvements in ADHD symptoms.  We’ll learn more about how exercise and ADHD symptoms are related as additional research is done.

In the meantime, take advantage of what we already know and help your child get active! It’s easier to get some kids moving than others. If you have a naturally active child, then finding time and an activity for him or her to do regularly may be your main challenge. If your child is more of a couch potato, then you’ll need to be a bit more strategic about how you get them moving!

  • You’ll have the most success long-term if you find activities that can fit into your child’s regular routine. Simple things like getting to school 15 minutes early so your child can spend time on the play structure, taking time a couple of evenings a week to supervise your child while he or she rides their bike outside or plays in the backyard, or talking to your child’s afterschool program about the availability of activities that require kids to be physically active.
  • If your child is spending most of his or her time indoors these days, look into apps and websites that encourage physical activity. I’m a big fan of GoNoodle, an app that allows kids to choose from guided activities like dance- and sing-alongs, Zumba® for kids, track and field activities, and more.
  • Get physically active with your kids. Outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, and skating are great, but simple activities can be good too. Invite your child to come with you when you walk the dog or work in the yard. You can turn every day activities like these into special one-on-one or family bonding time. If you’re stuck indoors, try to get creative. Kids always love a spontaneous family dance party!

We’ve always known that exercise is great for physical health, and promising new research is showing that it may help with ADHD symptoms too. While it’s not a cure for ADHD, exercise is a great supplement to any ADHD management program. So, give your child the boost he or she may need by helping him or her be more physically active every day



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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