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The ADHD Healthy Living Summer Challenge

Can healthy living habits affect ADHD symptoms?

A study out this week in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that an approach to ADHD emphasizing healthy living may significantly improve symptoms. Since ADHD undermines executive function, the skills we need to plan and sustain routines, it’s no surprise that it affects sleep, nutrition, and exercise, as well as pushing kids towards an unhealthy relationship with video games and technology. In other words, ADHD gets in the way of itself, pushing kids away from the exact habits that would improve their ADHD in the first place. The authors propose, though it’s yet to be proven, that a radical lifestyle change would have a significant positive impact on ADHD.

A separate study out this spring takes a unique approach to changing habits. Traditionally, the suggestion has been to take incremental steps toward larger goals. This new study suggests that changing multiple routines related to healthy living all at once, including practicing mindfulness, was both successful and more likely to stick.

As we head into summer, see if you can foster a healthy living shift in your family’s behavior, and see what happens around ADHD. Teens in particular may have the time and motivation to try something new. If you have ADHD yourself, you can try it too. Expect some frustration, as ADHD itself makes each step more difficult than it might seem on the surface, but then come back to your larger intentions again.

Here’s what to try out for your child, teen, or yourself:

  1. Prioritize healthy sleep. For a child the study recommends nine hours or more. For an adult, plan for whatever amount seems not your routine, but your ideal.
  2. Exercise daily.
  3. Focus on healthy eating, such as cutting out sugary beverages and junk food apart from occasional treats—what’s summer without them?
  4. Stay hydrated. No need for anything excessive, but especially in the summer encourage reasonable fluid intake.
  5. Keep screen time to less than two hours total daily (including TV, educational activities, games, and phones) … less is even better. More screen time according to the researchers directly correlates with worsening ADHD symptoms.
  6. Download a mindfulness app and schedule an age-appropriate brief daily meditation practice.
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