Is Medication the only answer for ADHD? No….

medsIn the past 10 years, millions of kids have been introduced to amphetamines and other stimulants to address ADHD. The number of prescriptions increased from 34.8 to 48.4 million between 2007 and 2011 alone. This medication comes with high costs both financially and physically – with horrible side effects such as agitation, flattened mood, confusion, mood swings and upset stomach.  Medication alone also doesn’t prevent ADHD, it simply masks the problem. Recent studies suggest cognitive behavioral therapy and neurofeedback could be a much safer alternative because they address the underlying problem without the harsh side effects of medication.  More new studies are being done to find safer, more effective ways to manage and cure ADHD – without overmedicating. Recent findings suggest that plain old physical activity may also be a highly effective treatment for ADHD.

Physical activity is a high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those who are attentive or hyperactive. Physical movement improves mental focus, memory, and cognitive flexibility and new research supports just how critical it is to academic performance.

Pediatrics recently published research that found kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings,”demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.” Furthermore, the improvements in kids who exercised regularly came in ‘executive control,’ which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).

Another recent study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD. (Executive functioning is impaired in ADHD, and tied to performance in math and reading.)

Last year a very similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids. The modest conclusion of the study was that “physical activity shows promise for addressing ADHD symptoms in young children.”

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do. He added, ‘physical exercise “is really for our brains.” He likened it to taking “a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”

So, encourage your kids to put down those video games and go out and play!  It’s good for our bodies, but it’s even better for our brains – no matter what age we are!

Self Inflicited ADD/ADHD – OUCH!!

Most of us take pride in how well we multi task and juggle multiple things at the same time.  We must, if we expect to meet the expectations of our bosses, teachers, and friends.  That’s not counting the additional work of the spouse or parent and all the normal daily stresses that come along with it.  We live in a world that sends information to us 24/7 in every way imaginable, often simultaneously.

The brain is not set up to process information like this; our brain is not designed to multi task.  Our brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time, whatever it decides is the most important, and that is usually what is most closely related to our basic survival.  When you ask the brain to focus on more than one task at a time, it must switch between tasks.

For example, if you are driving, talking on your cell, looking at your GPS for directions, and consequently you miss the exit, it is because your brain is switching back and forth, attending to each activity.  There is a lag time when switching between different tasks, although he would hardly notice it.

Too much information too quickly can lead to a brain freeze.  The feeling that you have too much information to process is a common occurrence, and the term “information fatigue” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2009.  We are starting to realize that information overload leaves us frustrated and emotionally depleted.  The term “Brain fart” already has its own Wikipedia page.

When we are in this fatigued state, we can make decisions that we might later regret.  By switching between so many stimuli, we leave ourselves depleted and distracted, the exact opposite of  the state in which to make best decisions.  When our brain is being bombarded with information, it tends to favor ease over accuracy.  Do you think a quick decision is the best decision?

There are many things you can do to improve your brain functioning, but here are 3 simple suggestions to think about:  1) Limit the amount of information your brain receives at one time.  2) Focus on one task at a time. 3) Give your brain time and space to integrate information and make the connections.

Take care of your brain.