Morning routines with an ADHD child can be frustrating, and that’s putting it mildly. They are often slow to move, distracted, scattered, and crabby. And let’s face it… morning isn’t my favorite part of the day either.

Adding exercise on top of an already crazy morning sounds really un-fun. But that’s exactly what I did this past year in the hopes to make my ADHD child’s entire day more positive.

It worked.

When I decided to try this seemingly crazy approach, my son and I were both at our wits’ ends – he was having more bad days than good. His self-esteem was tanking, and I was hearing a lot of negative self-talk coming from him. Something had to change. Fast.

As someone who struggles with depression, I have become well-aware that exercise is a critical part of my self-care. Studies are clear – exercise can be even more effective than medication in depressed individuals.

And so I reasoned, at the worst, exercise can’t be bad for my ADHD child, and at the best exercise may greatly improve my ADHD child’s quality of life. I decided to give the gift of exercise to my son and see whether it helped.

The results were nothing short of amazing. Even more, the experience gave us more peripheral benefits than I had ever anticipated.

This is our story.

Our Daily Morning Exercise Routine

I wake up my son at 6am, leaving time to wake him up as gently as possible. I’m not going to lie, he hates me most mornings. At least for a few minutes. But in the name of teaching him self-discipline and setting him up to have great days, I stick to it. Every day. Even on the days I personally want to push snooze.

As I wake him I tell him that it’s time to get up and start our day out the “right way.” He usually rolls around in his bed grumbling about being tired, sick or cold … And I patiently repeat that we are doing this because we are excellent, we are in control of setting the tone for our day, and that we love ourselves.

And you can bet, he gets extra rewards if he wakes without complaining. You’d be surprised at how easy this became after a couple of weeks.

Once I get him out of the comfort of his bed, we go straight to the treadmill or, if it’s nice out, we hit the outdoors.

Four minutes in — no fail — I see his first smile.

It’s smooth sailing from there.

A mile later, we’re done! Sweaty and happy! Mother and son.

Some days we’ve talked through some things in preparation for the day ahead. Other days we’ve run in silence. It’s up to him, really. Either way, we’ve connected and we both feel wonderful.

Finally, we sit down together, drink some water and listen to a meditation or some sort of personal development audio and get ourselves ready for the day.

The Two Reasons I Exercise My ADHD Child: Addressing My Critics

Sometimes when I tell people about our morning routine, I get critical remarks… “Isn’t that too harsh? He’s just a kid!”

Despite any questioning, judge-y looks (I know you know the ones), I stick to this onerous sometimes exhausting schedule for two reasons.

First, my gut tells me it helps my son have better days. If there is anything I have learned about this ADHD journey it is to TRUST MY GUT.

Second, the hard science backs me up.

Exercise and ADHD

John Medina, author of Brain Rules and a developmental molecular biologist explains that, “Exercise boosts brain power.” Regardless of any underlying condition.

He explains that long ago when we were running around the savannahs in our loincloths, humans rarely stopped moving. We didn’t sit in cubicles, watch video games, or even sit down to a good-old family meal.

We certainly didn’t sit in modern-day classroom desks, in school assemblies, or quietly in the orchestra hall field trip. No way.

Our brains developed to solve problems while our bodies literally stayed in motion. Hunting, gathering, traveling, etc. Our ADHD kids’ brains function better when their bodies are in motion. Plain and simple. (Actually, all of our brains function better when our bodies are in motion… but that’s for another day).

Here is an awesome video by Medina that you can use with your child.

When kids with executive function impairments engage in exercise, a large body of research tells us everything improves! (Just for a few references, check out this study about constant movement and ADHD, this study comparing exercise to adderall, and this study about combining computer programs and exercise)

After exercise ADHD kids can better control their emotions and impulses, organize their thoughts and behaviors, concentrate, and problem solve. Essentially after a short period of exercise, your ADHD child will be able to engage in every executive function more successfully.

As Medina explains here, exercise stimulates the production of a brain protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) that “acts like Miracle Grow” for the brain. BDNF is known to promote the survival of brain cells (neurons) by growing and maintaining them, and strengthens the connections between them (the synapses).

Who can argue with science like that?!

Regardless of the science, though, I know that when my son runs in the morning he is much more likely to have days with positive moods and behaviors. His teachers report that he is more productive, more focused, more compliant, and overall… happier. I’ll take it!

Check out Medina and his Brain Rules book here for the other 11 Brain Rules that can benefit you and your family! It’s an easy read with lots of interesting facts about our brains AND it’s written so that kids, teens, and adults alike can understand and enjoy it. It’s one of my and my son’s favorite go-to books when we want to learn about why our brains work the way they do!

Together, we’ve got this!

XoXoXo, Honestly Erin

P.S. Looking for more parenting strategies that work? Want someone to help you troubleshoot your particular concerns / child? Check out the Honestly ADHD parent coaching page!