“Exercise is a vital component in the treatment of ADHD.” ~ Russell Barkley, Ph.D.
“For a very small handful of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD), it may actually be a replacement for stimulants,” says John Ratey, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “But, for most, it’s complementary — something they should absolutely do, along with taking meds, to help increase attention and improve mood.” When you excercise your brain releases several important chemicals that elevate the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. These brain chemicals affect focus and attention, which are in short supply in those with ADHD. (1)
I found a great article by Leo Babauta with an approach to developing an exercise routine that you can stick to without losing the habits you’ve already put into place. Even if you’ve tried in the past and failed, you CAN make a major shift in your diet and exercise habits. You don’t even need much motivation. Change is possible when you approach losing weight as changing your lifestyle one small step at a time. Don’t rush it! Make small, gradual changes, barely challenging yourself at each level. These tips are perfect for people with ADHD. Take the time you need to get comfortable each step of the way. Believe in yourself and work the steps. They work.
“I know a lot of people who want to lose weight but are stuck – like I was in 2005.
They want to get healthy and fit, but can’t seem to stick to a diet or exercise plan. They start, and then fail, and then feel bad about it.
This was where I was 10 years ago, and I’m happy to tell you that it’s possible to change.
The secret lies in leveling up.
Like a video game, the way to changing your health habits is by starting out at the first level, and only going to the next level after you’ve beaten the one before that. The problem is that most people start at Level 10 and fail, and wonder what happened. Most of us want to skip several levels, but we’re just not ready.
So the secret is to start at Level 1 and to advance only when you’re done with that level. One level at a time, you’ll master the game of losing weight and getting healthy.
Here’s my guide to leveling up.
Please, for goodness sake, don’t make the mistake of skipping this level because it sounds too easy. The easy levels are where you gain your skills.
You need to do two very easy things at this level:
- Start walking just for a few minutes every day.
- Reduce your eating by a little bit. A very little
The walking should be as simple as walking around the block a couple times, or going to a nearby park for just 5-10 minutes. It should seem so easy that you feel a little dumb not doing more.
Why should it be so easy? Because you’re not ready for higher levels yet. You might think you are, but if you haven’t been regularly exercising for awhile, you aren’t.
The eating could just be as simple as putting a little less on your plate at dinner, or having one less soda a day. Make it almost unnoticeable.
Only progress past this level after you’ve successfully done it for a week.
Remember, don’t go to this level until you’ve had a streak of 7 days of doing Level 1.
Here are the two things to do at this level:
- Walk every day for a few minutes more. If you’ve been going around the block twice, make it three times. Or add 5 minutes to your walking.
- Eat a little less than in the previous level. Just a little less — not really noticeable.
You’ll slowly adjust to the new levels of walking and eating. Do this for another week before going to the next level.
If you’ve successfully done Level 2 for another week, you’re ready to add more:
- Walk a little more.
- Eat/drink less of something that’s empty calories — less soda, sugar, bread, pastries, sweet coffee drink, chips, cookies, pizza. Don’t drop any of these completely, just eat less of it.
Slowly, you’re adapting to a new level. Again, spend a week here.
Now we’re going to change things up a little!
- Add a minute of faster walking to your walks. Just one or two intervals of walking at a pace that makes it harder to have a conversation. So walk for 5 minutes at conversational pace, then speed it up for a minute, then back to the regular pace. You can repeat that a couple times if you feel like it.
- Add some veggies to your food. Just a little, and something you might like. Greens are the best, but if you’d rather eat carrots or cauliflower, go for it. Don’t make it a lot, just a little.
Spend a week at this level.
Basically, this is a repeat of Level 4 — add a little more fast walking to your daily walks, and add another veggie to one of your meals.
You can repeat this adding each week for 2-3 weeks. You’re getting the idea by now: basically, you started out by eating a little less each week (barely noticeable) and then adding some vegetables to your diet. You started out by walking just a little each day, slowly adding more, then adding some faster intervals. Keep increasing this progress slowly, one week at a time.
Now we’re going to add some harder challenges:
- Add some hills or stairs to your walking routine. Find a hill to walk up for at least a few minutes, or if you have stairs in your building, do a few flights at the end of your regular walk. Don’t make this too hard!
- Try finding and making a new healthy recipe online each week.
Stay at this level for 2-3 weeks, until it seems easy.
Only do this level once the previous level seems really easy!
- Add some pushups. Just 2-3 sets of fewer pushups than you think you can do.
- Find a healthy breakfast and eat that.
By now, you’ve been walking, doing walk intervals, added some stairs/hills, and some pushups. You’re in much better shape than before.
You’ve also slowly started eating less, adding vegetables, trying out new recipes, eating a healthy breakfast.
That’s a major shift in your diet and exercise habits, and you did it slowly, barely challenging yourself at each level. You didn’t rush it.
Now that you understand how this leveling system works, you can create your own levels beyond Level 7. Some ideas for higher levels — but be sure not to make any of the levels too difficult:
- Add more bodyweight exercises
- Add a little bit of running to your walks if you want
- Try some pull-ups
- Try some dumbbell weight exercises
- Eventually, try some basic barbell weight training (squats, dead-lifts, bench).
- Do a few yoga poses on some days
- Eat more veggies
- Reduce empty carbs
- Add whole grains
- Eat less junk food
- Slowly eliminate fast food
If you can slowly change your diet and exercise to include these levels, I can almost guarantee you’ll have weight loss over time, and most importantly, you’ll be much healthier over the long run.
Leveling up isn’t easy if you’re impatient, but it’s the smartest way to change, and it works.”
(1) Exercise and the ADHD Brain. ADDitudeMag.com – www.additudemag.com/exercise-and-the-adhd-brain Harvested 6/9/2017
About the author: Leo Babauta of Zen Habits shares his work freely, without copyright. If you appreciate this approach to gradually improving your health through diet and exercise, feel free to pass it along. Originally posted on Zen Habits – August 11th, 2015 – http://zenhabits.net/levels/
(I added the first two paragraphs and highlighting. Note: I’m proof that this approach works, having gradually lost 30 pounds using these tactics. The best part is that I have been able to maintain that loss. Joan Jager)
“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhoto.net” Modified on Canva