Exercise such as running has been scientifically proven to have a very positive effect on calming the brain. However, having ADHD makes it hard for people to recognize what’s good for them and can result in them giving up altogether.
Leanne Maskell is a former model for Vogue, ASOS and Urban Outfitters. She had low self-esteem, no confidence and negative self-image.
After surviving a suicide attempt, she was diagnosed with ADHD at 25. She has since written a book, ADHD: An A to Z, to help others navigate the often-choppy waters of living with ADHD.
“Having ADHD means your brain is seeking dopamine. But it can be easy to fall into ‘instant gratification’ dopamine vortexes. These might be scrolling on social media to find the perfect running spot, instead of actually running. In contrast to these distractions, which leave us wanting more, running will leave you energized and focused. So how do you do it?” she asks.
Break marathons into sprints
ADHD brains thrive on novelty and adrenaline. This means you might be much better at using short bursts of energy and working towards goals (such as actual marathons) instead of trying to implement a new routine to follow for the rest of your life.
“By breaking up your goals into chunks, you can celebrate running milestones. For example, making it past week 1 of a 5K training plan, instead of repeating it endlessly (as from my own experience!),” says Maskell.
“You can also track your progress by recording your runs or steps, or holding yourself to weekly targets. Just make sure your goals are realistic and achievable,” she adds.
Use your interest-based nervous system
ADHD isn’t so much about deficit of attention as the struggle in regulating it.
“If you’re interested in something, you can ‘hyper-focus’ and zone out from the rest of the world,” explains Maskell.
“Building something you’re interested in into your running routine will help you maintain it a regular habit. This could be listening to an audiobook, or if you’re like me, studying for your exams while on the treadmill.”
As running takes up some of your energy, it also allows you to focus more clearly on other information around you.
“You can also incorporate interest into your runs by discovering new parts of your local area, or creating a running playlist. Just don’t forget to use it!” says Maskell.
Run first thing in the morning
As ADHD is linked to impacted self-awareness, it can be difficult to remember your own needs. Especially the distractions build up throughout the day from other people.
“Incorporating a morning run into your day before any distractions can come through, such as from emails, will help you prioritize yourself first. This will empower you to start the day with a fresh and focused mindset,” she says.
Break down ADHD barriers
The most effective thing that Maskell does to make sure she runs is going to sleep in her gym kit.
“I hated being cold and changing in the morning. But if I’m ready to go as soon as I’ve woken up, all I need to do is get my trainers on and leave the house,” she says.
You can do the same by identifying what barriers are in your way. Figure out how to make the things you do easier, and the things you don’t want to do harder.
“I don’t go on my phone until I’m outside,” says Maskell. “In the same way, you can incorporate running into a habit you already have. Such as running to work instead of getting the bus. The idea is to make it as easy as possible.”
Done is better than perfect
This is an important mantra for ADHDers. “Small, sustainable habits are always going to be better than reinventing your entire identity as a runner, buying an entire new wardrobe, entering lots of races, and burning out,” says Maskell.
“By giving yourself mini goals and building these up slowly, you can keep your ADHD on track in the long run.”
Find fellow ADHD accountability buddies
Accountability works well for ADHDers. “Whether it’s body doubling by having a friend to run with, a personal trainer to keep you on track, or simply sharing in a group that you’ve been out for a run, it can help you to incorporate running alongside a community of others ,” believes Maskell.
“For example, I was part of a group that would send a photo to each other as we ran each day. Even on the days when I was too tired to run and just planned to take a photo, I would find myself deciding to run once I was out of the house.”