Treating ADHD with video games and exercise

A recent article in the Atlantic demonstrates the importance of exercise as a treatment tool for children with ADHD. There are a number of new  studies that suggest that 30-60  minutes of vigorous exercise can help children with ADHD remain focused and improve their capacity for learning. These studies support previous findings on the power of exercise to improve executive functioning skills and regulation of emotions in all children. All of this research supports what parents of children with ADHD already know: a child with ADHD should never miss recess, and gym class on a daily basis is ideal. Movement is one of the key treatments for children with ADHD.

Many clinicians and educators might argue that playing video games is the direct inverse of what children with ADHD need. As a practicing psychologist myself, I must say that there are compelling reasons for parents to think about treating ADHD with video games and exercise. While I want to be clear that running around and engaging in vigorous physical activity outdoors is preferred, the use of technologies to promote more movement and exercise is a very useful tool. We can help you use video games as a tool to increase the amount of exercise for their children with ADHD.

Here are some of the best methods for treating ADHD with video games and exercise:

  1. Play “exer-games” with your kids, particularly on cold and rainy days when it is hard to get outside.
    Games like Wii Sports and Kinect Sports Rivals are particularly vigorous. Make sure that everyone spends at least 45 minutes playing these games and is sweaty by the time they are done. Make it competitive to truly encourage physical exertion.
  2. Encourage your child to play sports video games. There is compelling research that suggests that children who play sports video games spend more time playing that sport outside. If your child loves soccer, skateboarding, or basketball let them play video games that feature that sport. You probably won’t even need to tell them to go outside to play the game because the video game experience is likely to inspire them to try the new moves that they learned in the game.
  3. Listen while you exercise.
    Have you ever noticed how many adults who jog are plugged into their iPod listening to music? There’s no question that your favorite tune can serve as inspiration for exercise. You might also try audiobooks or Podcasts to sustain your child’s attention on a lengthy walk or even to ride an exercise bike.
  4. Be the first one on your block to get an iWatch or another fitness tracker such as a Jawbone, Fitbit, or FuelBand to keep track of physical activity.
    For some children, just having these tools will encourage them to want to exercise more.  If you can help them to see the connection between higher levels of physical activity and improvements in school, you may have them hooked on exercise for life.

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