Learning something new improves and expands your brain. In an article published by the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds describes how learning to juggle, swim, ride a bicycle, or snowboard later in life can be a powerful tool for brain development. The same is true for kids with ADHD. There is strong evidence that exercises involving complex body movements such as karate, dance, or rock climbing can help children with ADHD improve their focus and attention. You can read some of this evidence in detail in the book Spark, by John Ratey, MD.
Learning a new physical skill in adulthood can lead to an increase in the volume of gray matter in parts of the brain related to movement control. In her article, Reynolds explains that previous studies with mice indicated that new exercises increased the amount of myelination (insulation of cells) in the brain that help neurons to transmit messages more efficiently. What is most noteworthy is that learning a new motor skill had a more powerful impact on brain development than simply practicing an old skill.
Building more connections in the brain may be crucial for improving sustained attention in kids with ADHD. Brain research suggests that improvements in myelination in the brain augmented the efficiency of connections between the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain that are crucial for high level executive-functioning skills. While the subjects of the studies described by Reynolds were older adults, these experiments suggest that exercise can improve executive functioning in anyone.
The implications for parents of kids with ADHD are clear. Not only is exercise good for keeping your kids fit and busy, it is also one of the best ways we have to treat the brain-based issues that contribute to ADHD. Here are some suggestions to encourage your kids to learn a new sport and build a more efficient brain:
Try less traditional sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance. These sports rely upon complex body movements, which require a different type of focus. For example, focus in cheerleading is important in because cheerleading requires multitasking. Cheerleaders often have to say cheers and do dance moves at the same time, and is it necessary to remain focused in order to do the routine properly and coordinate the cheers with the dance. Try a game like Dance Central Spotlight that challenges players to learn new moves and keep up the pace.
Go to a New Age gym. Try a non-traditional gym such as a rock climbing gym, or one that trains participants in yoga or kickboxing. Some kids will enjoy a gym that employs a “bootcamp” style. All of these sports require a variety of complex body movements that would most likely require learning a new skill for you and your kids.
Watch YouTube videos. Find videos that direct you to do yoga or jumping. Watch videos that help your kids to understand the importance of movement for their brains. There are thousands of great training videos on YouTube for sports and if you want to learn a new skill beyond something athletic, there are almost an infinite number of videos to choose from. Websites like GoNoodle can help you find activities to shake things up!
Featured image: Flickr user North Charleston