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Harnessing the Power of Exercise Physiology for ADHD and Autism

Jake Nimmo

Jake Nimmo

Exercise Physiologist & Perth Team Leader, Patches Australia

Living with neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can present unique challenges for individuals and their families. While traditional interventions like therapy and medication are widely recognised, there is growing evidence supporting the positive impact of exercise physiology on managing symptoms associated with ADHD and ASD.

Our Exercise Physiologist, Jake Nimmo, explores the way in which tailored exercise programs can contribute to improved executive function, attention, and overall well-being for those with ADHD, as well as enhancing physiological responses and sensory processing for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Exercise Physiology & ADHD

Individuals with ADHD often grapple with difficulties in executive function, attention, and impulse control. Aerobic exercises, such as running, swimming, or cycling, have been shown to be particularly beneficial for all three of these areas. The increased cerebral blood flow during aerobic activities is thought to stimulate the release of key neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurochemical changes play pivotal roles in attention and executive functioning, leading to improvements in focus and behaviour.

Moreover, regular participation in aerobic exercises contributes to elevated endorphin levels, which not only enhance mood but also help reduce impulsivity—a common challenge for those with ADHD. On a long-term basis, the positive effects of exercise extend to improved sleep patterns, addressing a prevalent issue among people with ADHD. Better sleep not only supports overall well-being but also further aids in managing ADHD symptoms.

Exercise Physiology & Autism Spectrum Disorder

For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the benefits of exercise extend beyond the physical realm to positively influence physiological responses and sensory processing.

Exercise physiologists design tailored programs that include both aerobic and resistance exercises to address specific challenges faced by individuals with autism. Exercise physiologists prescribe appropriate aerobic and resistance exercise as it helps upregulate serotonergic transmission, leading to increased serotonin production which plays a role in mood stabilisation. Tailored exercise programs also aim to improve gross and fine motor skills, coordination, balance, and overall physical fitness. This in turn, can lead to better participation in school and social environments, thereby fostering social inclusion and better peer relationships.

For more information

Our expert team of Exercise Physiologists can assist people of all ages and abilities and can deliver programs in-clinic, or at homes, schools and across the community.

Click here to download our Exercise Physiology factsheet. 

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