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Martial Arts for ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental/ behavioral disorders among adolescents. While some will outgrow it, about 60% will carry it into adulthood, with about 4-5% of adults having a professional diagnosis.

Symptoms include a diminished ability to follow directions, remember information, concentrate, organize, and finish tasks on time. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect all manner of activities from work and school to home life and hobbies.

While most of those affected will learn how to adapt to these challenges, there are methods and outlets to help those with ADHD get the best out of themselves and alleviate some of the difficulties they may have.

With its unique combination of training both the mind and the body, martial arts has improved cognitive function in those with the disorder. Sports such as taekwondo, wrestling, and karate require a lot of energy, focus, and discipline from their students. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that structure, consistency, and martial arts rituals help develop organizational skills in those with ADHD. Additionally, it teaches mental discipline and has been shown to increase levels of self-control and problem-solving.

A study investigating the effects of Taekwondo on adolescents with ADHD over 18 months found that the training increased students’ selective attention span. And researchers recommend that practitioners implement martial arts programs as part of a general plan to improve attention and health in children with ADHD.

One of the possible reasons martial arts are so effective in helping to increase attention span is because it is an individualized sport. Psychologists suggest that hyperactive children do better in activities where the coaching is directed to the individual vs. the group, like in team sports. For this reason, students tend to be able to focus better and thrive in the ordered environment of a dojo that offers routine and high physical demand in a calming space.

Substantially less research has been done for adult martial arts students with ADHD. However, one study focusing on the impact of extensive martial art training on cognitive control in adults found that martial arts training showed an improvement in the Alert Attentional Network in adults with ADHD. This means it helps participants to focus on a task and avoid distraction. Similar to youths, the training benefits concentration and behavioral inhibition.

There is a plethora of martial arts to choose from, whether you begin as a child or as an adult, striking like muay thai, or grappling like BJJ, there are a host of benefits to help alleviate and even improve your ADHD symptoms as well as your physical and mental health.

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