Exercise has been proven to be great treatment for ADHD as well as for depression. Recent research adds information about why and how.
Exercise has been shown to be a great treatment for lessening the symptoms of ADHD. According to Dr. John Ratey, co-author of Driven to Distraction and The User’s Guide to the Brain, exercise helps provide focus for a specific period of time after the exercise is completed – usually in the range of a few hours. Because of this, exercise can be used as both a long-term treatment for ADHD as well as a tactical one. If you have a big presentation at 2:00 you might want to exercise over your lunch break so you are completely focused when the big time comes.
In addition, regular exercise helps promote neurogenesis – the process by which our brains create new connections and get stronger. Work that Ratey has done with children and school exercise programs (reviewed in his book, Spark) demonstrate improved focus and significantly improved learning in schools where specific types of exercise programs were added. (Spark, by the way, is a phenomenal look at one way in which schools could do better to promote better academic performance! Really interesting reading for parents!)
Exercise has also been shown to be a wonderful treatment for depression. In one study, for example, regular exercise was more effective at diminishing the symptoms of depression than Zoloft.
Now the New York Times reports (article here) that researchers in Stockholm are learning just how exercise can help prevent depression. It has to do with complex chemical processes and whether or not chemicals created by the stress that leads to depression are broken down in a way that prevents them from passing through the blood-brain barrier and causing inflammation.
This research is quite interesting and I found myself marveling at the incredible complexity of our brains and bodies as I read the article. And, once again, awestruck by the differences small changes in brain chemistry can make in our daily lives.