What Are Brain Exercises for ADHD?

People with ADHD can turn everyday activities into mental exercises to increase dopamine levels and help treat symptoms.

Little is known about what causes the telltale symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—impulsivity, inattention, and difficulty with organization. But some evidence suggests that a dopamine deficiency plays a role. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate behavior, mood, and movement.

To treat ADHD, healthcare providers typically prescribe stimulant medications, such as Ritalin (methylphenidate). Those medications help increase dopamine in the brain. But what if there was an all-natural way to increase concentration and attention span?

People with ADHD can turn everyday activities into mental exercises to increase dopamine levels and help treat the condition. Here's what you should know about how brain exercises can help with ADHD.

Exercises For Your Brain

For the most part, experts agree that there is no "cure" for ADHD. Instead, people with ADHD can use medications to control their symptoms. Also, learned techniques can improve attention and organization. But in most cases, the condition either goes away on its own after childhood or remains with a person throughout their adult life.

Exercising your brain can also help. Mental and physical workouts may build brain mass and neural pathways. People can stimulate neuron growth by engaging in activities requiring new skills and problem-solving. The more stimulated neurons, the more connections in areas of the brain that are dopamine deficient.

For example, a study published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology examined 36 volunteers. The researchers evaluated the Attention Training Technique (ATT) using EEG results.

ATT is a mental exercise in which you listen and focus on different sounds. The sounds may come from far away or close by, and you may hear them simultaneously. The purpose of ATT is to help people with ADHD control their attention.

The researchers found that a single dose of ATT resulted in a significant enhancement in the regions of the brain known to play a role in top-down attentional and executive control.

Get Physical To Get Results

Another one of the best ways to build those brain muscles is exercise, combining mental and physical activities, which include:

  • Karate
  • Taekwondo
  • Dance
  • Yoga

Exercise alone increases levels of dopamine, which could improve concentration for hours after completion. But combine that exercise with a deep mental focus, and people may see even more positive results.

Martial arts, such as Taekwondo, help increase homework completion, academic performance, and classroom preparation. In contrast, martial arts help decrease classroom misbehavior.

But Don't Discount Traditional Medicine

Research backs some of those theories. But as of December 2022, there have been no definitive studies to show that brain exercises "cure" ADHD, David Rabiner, PhD, a research professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, told Health

"There are only two kinds of interventions with reasonable evidence: medicine and behavioral therapy," said Rabiner.

But there have been promising studies around neurofeedback, explained Rabiner. Neurofeedback is a controversial treatment that attaches painless electrodes to a person's scalp. The electrodes measure their brain frequency. Using video, computer, and sound, the person learns to control their brain waves by learning to produce a desired outcome on the screen.

For example, a study published in 2019 in PLoS One looked at 172 children with ADHD. The researchers had the children perform three sessions of brain-computer interface (BCI)-based training for eight weeks. The computer-based attention training program improved inattentive symptoms in the children after a minimum of 24 sessions.

Companies have marketed that technology to the public. For instance, SmartBrain Technologies sells an in-home video game system that uses the principles of neurofeedback.

A Quick Review

Medications have long been the mainstay of treatment for ADHD. But some experts see medications as a temporary measure. Healthcare providers must continuously adjust the dosage, and some people develop adverse side effects.

Some evidence suggests that brain exercises may help control ADHD symptoms. People with ADHD can perform those exercises using video games or other computer-based interfaces. 

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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  2. Nikolaus S, Mamlins E, Giesel FL, Schmitt D, Müller HW. Monoaminergic hypo- or hyperfunction in adolescent and adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder?Rev Neurosci. 2021;33(4):347-364. doi:10.1515/revneuro-2021-0083

  3. Knowles MM, Wells A. Single Dose of the Attention Training Technique Increases Resting Alpha and Beta-Oscillations in Frontoparietal Brain Networks: A Randomized Controlled ComparisonFront Psychol. 2018;9:1768. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01768

  4. Su WC, Amonkar N, Cleffi C, Srinivasan S, Bhat A. Neural Effects of Physical Activity and Movement Interventions in Individuals With Developmental Disabilities-A Systematic ReviewFront Psychiatry. 2022;13:794652. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2022.794652

  5. Kadri A, Slimani M, Bragazzi NL, Tod D, Azaiez F. Effect of Taekwondo Practice on Cognitive Function in Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(2):204. doi:10.3390/ijerph16020204

  6. Lim CG, Poh XWW, Fung SSD, et al. A randomized controlled trial of a brain-computer interface based attention training program for ADHDPLoS One. 2019;14(5):e0216225. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216225

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