There are periods in my life that I can not keep myself from spending hours a day at the gym, swimming pool, squash court or any other kind of sporty accommodation. But in between these periods, I find myself unable to leave the comfort of my couch, spending all my time on series and gaming. I have a love-hate relationship with sports, a life-long ongoing on-again, off-again relationship with the one thing that is always able to help me win the fight with my ADHD devil.
What are the benefits?
Although the benefits of exercise on dealing with ADHD symptoms lack scientific proof, there is clearly a connection between the severeness of the symptoms and the amount of physical activity. Studies show that regular exercise can relieve stress, regulate hyperactivity and improve concentration.
In a way, exercise works like ADHD medication. ADHD brains have difficulties is managing their dopamine levels, exercise encourages the productions of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, causing the same effect as for example methylphenidate. Besides, exercise releases endorphine, the feel-good chemical that comes from sex, chocolate and even crying.
The chemical process that comes from exercise results in a better experience, it makes us feel good about ourselves. Exercise releases all the restless energy that builds up inside us during the day, and by releasing this energy, we create a bit of clearness inside our brains. Exercise calms down the ADHD devil inside us.
Why is it so hard?
No matter how strong the benefits from exercise are, there are long periods of time I find myself unable to do any kind of physical activity. I know it is important for me to keep moving, I know it will make me feel better but the gap between wanting to do it and actually doing it seems too big.
In these periods I tell myself every night I have to start workout out again, I even make plans for the next day. However, when I find myself unable to sleep again the next day I know I again failed to perform enough physical activity. This is the both funny and frustrating way in which the ADHD brain works. We don’t value importance, we can not do something simply because it will be good for us. We can only do the things that are extremely interesting or very challenging, and starting exercise often isn’t any of both.
Another thing that I personally struggle with when it comes to starting physical activity, is anxiety. New things, people or environments scare me, and going to a gym has all of these things. Besides, the motivational gap I have a fear of starting something new and this increases the length of the motivational bridge I have to build. I need even more planks because of my anxiety, while planks are extremely hard to find for ADHD brains.
How to get started?
In the years I have spend together with my ADHD devil, I have learned some tricks that make me able to make the ADHD devil allowing me to do the things I want to do. When it comes to exercising, I know I just have to trick my devil for one or two weeks, before he starts seeing the workouts as a things he wants me to do. One week of tricking the devil into getting interested in working out can be dome in different ways, but here are some options:
Use a friend. Make a plan to exercise together, with a friend you trust to stick to the plan. The ADHD devil is very sensitive to other people’s opinions and never wants to let anyone down. So when your friend exercises, you will join him or her, because the devil doesn’t want to disappoint your friend.
Start small. A trick I once used, was telling myself that each day, I should increase the time I spend on my bicycle when coming back from the office. Each day I changed my route a little, slowly increasing the time I spend cycling. Within a week I found myself cycling 40 minutes more than needed. It was easy to do because I would already be on my bike, I didn’t have to start something new and the ADHD devil saw a challenge in cycling as far as possible.
Challenge yourself. The ADHD devil has a weak spot when it comes to challenges. Wherever he sees this word, he gets excited, he wants to start and succeed, he wants to show how great he is. On the internet many workout challenges can be found, and participating in one of these is a perfect way to start moving. If the challenge will be one or two weeks long it is the perfect tool to trick your ADHD devil into exercise.
Add a reward. Working out might not be interesting by itself, but can be associated with a lot of interesting things. You can add a reward to your workout, like pocket money you can give yourself, a beautiful dress that has become too small, time with a guy you have a crush on that goes to the same gym or simply the comfort to be allowed to walk around in the supermarket in your extremely comfortable sports leggings. Adding a reward makes the ADHD devil extremely interested.
How does it feel?
After just a few weeks of physical activity, you will start to notice that it gets really easy to start. You start feeling the benefits of exercising and the ADHD devil will start getting addicted to the dopamine that results from it. You no longer have to fight the devil to start your workout and you will start to feel really good.
What I experience when I’m exercising regularly, is mainly the ability to sleep. I work out in the evening and after this, my mind becomes clear, my thought slow down and this combined with the physical tiredness makes me fall asleep easily without any struggles or distractions. My days at the office I spend with more concentration because of the clearness of my mind and besides I feel much better about myself. Exercise increases my self-esteem and I feel more proud about me.
Physical activity also gives me more energy. It feels like the energy that is usually waisted on my mental rush of thoughts becomes available through exercise. I no longer waste my energy on the devil’s distractions, the pointless overthinking. Instead, I can use all of it on the things I want to spend it on. My physical tiredness creates a mental peace that creates energy inside me.
I learned that there are two things I have to avoid when it comes to continuing my life with a clear mind. The first one is that I should never skip one of my planned workouts. I have to workout regularly to continue the ease of doing it. For me the limit is 3 days, if I don’t workout for a longer time, my devil will loose his interest and soon I find myself afraid of going to the gym again, remaining on my couch. After 3 days the magic of exercising disappears and I will have to start building my motivational bridge all over again. I should never allow myself to skip a workout because the bridge disappears really quickly.
Secondly, it is important to find a balance. My ADHD devil has a tendency to make me focus too much on one things. I either do something completely or not at all, black or white, there is no grey. Finding the balance in working out is something I need help with. When I exercise, I do it for multiple hours a day, each day, until I’m exhausted and stop workout out completely. I can not balance, and I’m curious id you have some tips for me, tips that can teach me how to start balancing?