How Cycling Can Relieve ADD Symptoms

Indoor Cycling Can Boost Your Memory, Productivity and Mood

Indoor cycling is good for your head as well as your heart, not to mention the rest of your body. This moderate to vigorous form of aerobic exercise can improve your mood and your can-do attitude and relieve any physical and mental stress and tension you may be feeling. And indoor cycling can boost your brainpower, including your memory and reasoning skills, and enhance your work productivity. The latest research suggests that riding a stationary bicycle at a moderate to vigorous intensity for 20 minutes or longer can even improve symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids and adults.

Cycling and ADD: Possible Mechanisms of Action

It’s not entirely surprising, considering that indoor cycling cranks up your circulation, including the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which can improve cognitive performance. Plus, indoor cycling, among other intense cardio workouts, can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters—such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin—and other brain chemicals that enhance attention, concentration, learning, motivation and other cognitive functions. There is also compelling evidence that intense aerobic exercise augments brain structure and function. Moreover, research has found that cycling at a moderate intensity increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes brain cell growth and helps with nerve transmission and modulation. Together, these factors optimize cognitive function.

But there may be more to the picture, as far as ADD is concerned.

For one thing, exercise leads to increased release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects brain function, just as the stimulant medications that are used to treat ADD do. This can lead to improved executive functioning—including being able to learn new information, retrieve and recall information you’ve learned in the past and use this information to solve problems in everyday life; these skills are a particular challenge for children with ADD.

In fact, clinicians often prescribe consistent aerobic exercise as part of the behavioral treatment for ADD for people at any age. And there’s scientific proof that it helps with mental focus and problem-solving. In a 2016 study, researchers had 32 young men between the ages of 18 and 33 with symptoms of adult ADD do a mental task that required sustained attention and effort before and after performing moderate intensity cycling for 20 minutes or sitting quietly on the bike for 20 minutes. After cycling, the men reported being more motivated to do the cognitive task than when they did it without cycling. They also felt more energized and vigorous and less confused, tired and depressed after cycling.

Meanwhile, a 2015 study found that when kids with ADHD did a single 30-minute session on a cycle ergometer before performing cognitive tasks, they gained benefits in speed of processing and inhibitory control on the tasks; the same thing didn’t happen when they watched a 30-minute nature documentary before tackling the cognitive tasks.

In other words, it was the movement that made the difference, not the delay in addressing the mental challenges.

The Best Exercise Rx?

At this point, it isn’t known what the optimal dose, frequency or duration of exercise sessions are to effectively treat ADD for the long haul, and in truth, this may vary from one person to another. Nor is it clear how long the beneficial effects last for attention-related issues.

Nonetheless, this much is clear: Moderate to vigorous exercise just might help with symptoms of ADD at least for a period of time. And it certainly can’t hurt, given that it won’t cause adverse side effects the way some stimulant medications do. Plus, it can help improve many different functions in your body and mind, thereby setting you up for greater success in work or school-related challenges. 

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