Exercise & Health

6 ADD-Friendly Tips for Starting and Maintaining an Exercise Program

From setting realistic goals to ignoring your “inner saboteur,” these exercise strategies will help you keep your body and mind healthy.

Fitness Advice for ADHD Adults: Exercise Help
Fitness Advice for ADHD Adults: Exercise Help

Eager to get going on your new exercise regimen? Once you start seeing results, you’ll find it easier to change your eating habits, as well. Over the years, Boston-based attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) coach Nancy Ratey has helped dozens of clients develop and stick with exercise programs. Here are six stick-to-it strategies that she finds particularly helpful.

1. Make exercise a “win-win” game.

Many people with ADHD set exercise goals that are unrealistically high — and unwittingly set the stage for failure. For instance, if you say that you’ll work out for 30 minutes but manage only 15, you may feel so discouraged that you skip your next workout session.

Here’s a better idea: First, decide upon the absolute minimum amount of exercise that you find acceptable — for example, working out for 15 minutes twice a week. Then set an easy maximum workout goal — maybe 30 minutes twice a week. Chances are, you’ll have no trouble reaching your minimum goal — and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll also exceed your maximum goal. Meeting your goals makes you feel good and encourages you to stick with your workouts. Remember to increase your minimum and maximum goals periodically.

[The ADHD-Friendly Eating Plan]

2. Hold yourself accountable.

If you told yourself that you would exercise before the end of the day, don’t allow yourself to bag it. Even if it’s 11:30 p.m., you still have time. If it’s impossible to go outside or make it to the gym, run in place or do some jumping jacks or push-ups. Your goal is to end the day saying, “I did what I said I would do!”

3. Track your workouts.

Hang up a calendar, and mark an “X” on the days you exercise. Keep it simple — no need to mark workout time, reps, laps, heart rate, and so on. Once a month, review what you’ve accomplished to get a sense of your progress.

4. Write a letter.

Many adults with ADHD start an exercise program with tremendous enthusiasm, only to lose interest within a few weeks. If that sounds like you, write yourself a letter of encouragement. Give it to a friend at the start of your exercise program, and ask her to “deliver” it back to you when your enthusiasm starts to flag.

5. Schedule “backup” workouts.

Like most people with ADHD, you probably hate structure — especially when it comes to working out and doing other “chores.” So feel free to add some flexibility to your structure by scheduling not one but several workouts during any given 24-hour period. For example, you might schedule your weekend workout for 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. Sunday. That’s six chances. Odds are, you’ll make one of them.

[Why You Crave Sugar and Carbs]

6. Ignore your “inner saboteur.”

It’s hard to develop regular exercise habits if a voice inside you keeps saying, “Why not skip today’s workout and do it tomorrow instead?” And with ADHD, there’s almost always such a voice. Don’t listen to it. Tell it to get lost.