Managing ADHD: Is exercise the best medicine?

'"It's my dopamine levels..." is one of the first things I generally hear when I start with a new client. The insufficient levels of this chemical in the brains of my clients who have ADHD give rise to many different problems. The ones I hear most often include, "unmotivated", "lack of drive", "constantly tired", "can’t concentrate", "mood swings", and "lose track of time".


These are debilitating, especially if you’re trying to make your way in life and be successful. There are various medications out there that can help elevate the levels of dopamine.

But what if I were to say that just one moderate exercise workout could give you the same dopamine boost? If this is the case, surely exercising regularly is much better for you? It will not only improve your mental health but also your physical health too. The answer is that it can and does work. Let me tell you about one of my current clients...

He’s 35 years old, and six months ago he came to me for help as he struggled with keeping his focus at work, was always late getting there and his attention to detail was poor. He was worried that he was going to lose his job. He had been considering medication.

In one of our first sessions, we looked at the 'wheel of life' to see what was important to him, and his health was a nine out of 10. So what was he doing to improve his health? Nothing. No exercise of any kind.

So if exercise is so helpful to people with ADHD in particular, why wasn't my client doing any exercise?

Most of the time, he knew he 'should' be exercising regularly, but every time he got himself started with a routine he would very quickly lose interest, or would use every excuse under the sun not to do it.

He was procrastinating,which is a common trait of ADHD. The gym was boring, and running was even worse! This was getting him even more anxious and stressed. He was putting on weight, which was making him depressed and unproductive, so he did even less.

Combining life coaching with personal training 

This is where my client had won the lottery! Not only am I an experienced life coach, but I have 20 years of experience behind me as a personal trainer. This rare combination meant we could work simultaneously on improving his physical and mental health, as well as his diet. This is what I like to call ‘ultimate coaching’.

But because of his ADHD symptoms, we had to do things a little differently, so as to keep his attention and avoid procrastinating. This is what we did.

  • We looked at doing things he enjoyed. This meant he focused much better.
  • We set SMART goals (realistic tangible targets to keep focus).
  • Our goal 'blocks' were only two to three weeks long, which meant we could keep focus better.
  • I made him more accountable for reaching his goals (constant support/communication to check on his progress).
  • We made exercise a priority.
  • We set scheduled rest days.
  • His support network became involved (family and friends).

As part of our coaching sessions, we looked at his current position (Have we reached the next goal? If not, what has been the issue(s)? How can we change/modify to move forward and make the next target?). 

Now it didn’t happen overnight. There were definite bumps in the road, but that is to be expected. That’s where the life coaching side of things came in. We found a routine that worked for him.

For the purpose of this article, last week I asked him to write a list of things that have improved in his life since starting exercising regularly. This is what he wrote:

  • "Less moody with my kids and wife."
  • "Better focus on tasks at work (happy boss)."
  • "Get to work on time! (Even happier boss.)"
  • "Much better sleep."
  • "More confidence in myself."
  • "Positive vibes."
  • "Less anxious and less stressed."
  • "I actually want to get out of bed in the morning."

I am not saying medication is not extremely important for many people with ADHD. But hopefully, you can see from the above real-life story, that you will also agree that exercise can be a great 'medicine' in improving ADHD symptoms.

The recent trend in fitness apps and online trainers has its place in helping people get fit. But when it comes to dealing with mental and physical health rolled into one, there's only one solution... Go find your 'ultimate coach'!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS20
Written by John Kay
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS20

My name is John, and I help men of all ages with neurodiverse conditions ( such as ADHD, autism and dyslexia ) gain direction, increase confidence and motivation by setting life goals and changing the way they think.

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