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Bikes, the Best Medicine

It’s no secret that cycling does wonders for your physical health. Pushing the pedals builds strong muscles, increases cardiovascular endurance and boosts your metabolism. However, the mental health benefits of cycling are equally as impressive. Several years ago, our son was diagnosed with ADHD and depression. Since that time, we’ve been on a journey to discover ways to help him overcome the challenges associated with his diagnosis. In addition to minimal doses of prescribed medication, something we noticed, quite by accident, was the notable difference in his mood when he came in from playing outside. Whether it was simply running around or riding his bike, physical activity seemed to improve his mental clarity and overall sense of well-being. This prompted us to dig a little deeper into the research and science behind what we were seeing. So, what’s really going on inside our brain when we exercise?
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Several studies suggest that patients with ADHD reported feeling more mentally clear and able to focus after periods of physical activity. However, not all exercise yielded the same results. Some activities are better brain boosters than others, and cycling is considered one of the best! David Conant-Norville, MD, a psychiatrist in Beaverton, Oregon, who specializes in adolescents and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, recently surveyed his colleagues about the best sports for athletes with ADHD. Cycling, swimming, and running came out on top. Why? These sports demand constant physical exertion and a combination of technical movements that engaged brain functions dealing with balance, timing, error correction, decision-making and focus.
Researchers explain that Ritalin, the medication widely used to treat ADHD, works by boosting the concentration of two neurotransmitters in particular: dopamine and norepinephrine. Rigorous exercise, specifically cycling, swimming and running, have been shown to cause the body to produce the same effect. “A bout of exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” says John Ratey, MD, a Harvard Medical School professor who has treated and studied ADHD for more than 20 years.
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So, the mental benefits of exercise we observed in our son were not merely imagined! There is a clear connection between the two and that knowledge has been a powerful tool in allowing us to find new ways to help him succeed. He now enjoys riding his bike to and from school each day and goes mountain biking regularly with his hard-to-keep-up-with dad. The added physical activity, in conjunction with his medication, dramatically improves his mental clarity and ability to focus at school and at home.
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The truth is, being a parent is not an easy gig! Unfortunately, those little suckers don’t come with an owner’s manual. Unexpected challenges will arise, your patience will undoubtedly be tested and your ability to adjust and adapt will be essential. Finding what works best for your family requires a whole lot of trial and error. The one constant we can rely on to bring us joy is getting outside and playing together. Making time for outdoor activities makes all the difference in the world! Whether it’s bikes, hikes or a simple stroll to the park, make play a priority in your family and watch the smiles deepen and the bonds strengthen!
Written by Jill Mortensen
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2 Responses to “Bikes, the Best Medicine”

  1. Nancy Younghans on 28 Sep 2017 at 7:50 am

    Jill–you are such a great writer! Thanks for the very informative article about cycling and your son. He is so fortunate to have such wonderful parents who are willing to encourage him to participate in his outdoor activities and actually do these activities with him!

  2. Max Shumpert on 10 Nov 2017 at 6:29 am

    Thanks Jill for sharing this personal story, its amazing and I’m glad your son experiences benefits of cycling.

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