John Ratey is well known for his groundbreaking work on Attention Deficit Disorder. He coauthored the book, “Driven to Distraction” with Ed Hallowell. His newest book is “Spark- The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.” I found Spark a fascinating read. Ratey cites dozens of studies that span decades and continents. All point to the same conclusion: exercise, and aerobic exercise in particular, boosts the release of important neurotransmitters and enhances cognitive function. For people with ADD or ADHD, this boost can be life changing. Ratey is not prescribing exercise as the “cure” for attention issues, but he does offer specific examples of people who have used exercise to combat the negative effects of stress and attention problems. Many were able to reduce or eliminate ADD medications, though he clearly states that for some people, a combination treatment of both medication and structured exercise may be best.
Ratey talks at length about the success of a special gym program instituted in Naperville, Illinois. The emphasis is on personal fitness. Students in this area have very strong tests scores and a very low rate of childhood obesity. In other places around the country that have implemented a similar program, standardized scores have risen dramatically. These case studies are fascinating.
“Spark” has inspired me to increase my own exercise routine, and also to institute morning recess at home each day. My homeschooled kids are absolutely loving it and we're finding the morning transitions go much more smoothly when we all look forward to getting outside and moving our bodies! We've been running laps on the driveway (five times back and forth to the mailbox is about a mile), doing calisthenics, playing four square, jump rope, and kickball. My three year old has her own method of jumping jacks that is just hilarious to watch. My daughter who has the hyperactive sort of attention deficit enjoys sprinting before school, and appears to have less trouble focusing after she has been active. I think my next investment will be a basketball hoop!
Everyone knows that exercise is good for the body, but it is high time that we recognize how good it is for the mind. For a child who has attention issues, a solid workout each morning may make a real difference. I'd be skeptical of a drug that claimed to, “supercharge your mental circuits to beat stress, sharpen your thinking, lift your mood, boost your memory, and much more” , but these are very real affects that regular exercise can produce. Not all exercise is equally effective in fighting symptoms of ADD. Read this book to find out how to implement a regimen that will work for you or your children.