4 simple ways for adults with ADHD to get more exercise

Mum with ADHD scooting with childn

4 simple ways for adults with ADHD to get more exercise

Mum with ADHD scooting with childn


I’m a pretty motivated person on the whole, but like so many of us, at times I have real difficulty getting moving… We know we need exercise. It really does makes us feel good. Nonetheless, it can be seriously challenging to find the time and energy – not to mention the motivation – to do enough exercise to keep us well and make sure we can really put our best foot forward. 

Those of us dedicating a lot of our time to caring for others, and with ADHD, are especially in need of exercise but also usually ridiculously time-poor – and exhausted… Not exactly conducive for springing out of bed and going for a run at 6 am. (As if that were an option for those of us parenting solo anyway!)

As we know, endorphins released during exercise are particularly helpful for our mental wellbeing, which is so critical for parenting our kids well. And for those of us with ADHD the importance of exercise to maximise our functioning can’t be overstated.  

In reality though, knowing this is often not enough to get us moving. Let’s take a look a closer look at the science behind what gets us, and more importantly keeps us, motivated to exercise.

Just do it sometimes just doesn’t cut it

Over the years I’ve usually done some form or regular exercise a few times a week. My current regime involves some weight and resistance training for about 10 minutes which I usually do three to four times a week. I also dance around the living room with Harry, my 6-year-old who is autistic and also has ADHD like I do. We love to dance to very loud boogie music for between five and fifteen minutes a few times a week. 

We also often use balance boards during our boogie sessions and I also do some balance work while doing some of my training. Recent research shows that balance training appears to reduce ADHD symptoms in kids, though everybody can benefit from it. 

While I try to go for a gorgeous two-hour hike along the Yarra river every fortnight, it can be hard to make that happen. If there’s one area of exercise I need to increase, it’s definitely aerobic exercise. I’ve also recently bought a scooter and try to scoot around the neighbourhood with my son a few times a week.

Unfortunately, in reality, my motivation levels sometimes take a dive. When I struggling to do enough exercise the following strategies really help.

1) Create accountability

One of my all-time favourite strategies when it comes to achieving anything is accountability to others. It’s one of the very best ways to achieve goals and for the ADHD brain being accountable to others is incredibly helpful for keeping us on track.

There’s no question that having a walking buddy or committing to group exercise classes helps us get moving. Accountability is an external (or extrinsic) motivator, which is why it works so well for some neurodivergent brains. Our internal (or intrinsic) motivation systems don’t work as well as others do. 

Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that is a critical part of our biological ‘reward system’ and as such are important for intrinsic motivation. Unfortunately, problems with our dopamine ‘pathways’ are thought to be a major cause of ADHD symptoms so it follows that motivation can be especially difficult for us as well.

Exercising with others also is a great idea because connection is also so important for your mental wellbeing. But keep in mind that the problem with external motivators is that if you remove them, you’re back to square one… Accountability to others is still a great strategy, but it’s important to keep this in mind and build in a plan B when it comes to external motivators. How can you create more accountability to get yourself moving?

When it comes to intrinsic motivation, there are science-backed ways to increase it even for those of us who may struggle with it. This great article by Anne-Laure Le Cunff who writes about all things neuroscience explains how to increase intrinsic motivation. 

She suggests the following two approaches:

2) Manage your mood

 You’ve got no chance of feeling intrinsic motivation if you’re in an awful mood. So it’s critical to try to shift your mood before you try to motivate yourself to exercise or do anything else. Some ways to deal with challenging emotions include meditation, treating yourself or listening to uplifting music or connect with a loved one who you know lifts your spirits.

3) Measure your progress

As Anne Laure says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Measuring your progress may be as simple as ticking off the days you exercise on a calendar on the fridge or you can use a fitness App for the same purpose.

Think about it. Using a pedometer increases walking for most people and it’s the same principle.  Creating a ‘streak’ of a number of days in a row can be very motivating. The simple principle behind this is that awareness changes behaviour and it makes us more likely to hold ourselves to account. 

4) Make it public

Anne-Laure’s final suggestion is to announce your plans to others, which is why I often share my plans to change up my exercise plan with the Lilo Wellness community and friends and family. We’re clearly on the same wavelength!

So, go on. Give these strategies a go and set yourself up for successfully getting more exercise today.