My oldest child has ADHD. As a parent learning to navigate all that comes with that diagnosis, from nutritional strategies to potential medication choices, one thing has stood from out the beginning. Regardless of the path we choose, natural medicine versus traditional pharmaceuticals, official diagnosis versus self-management, etc., we must teach her applicable strategies to manage her symptoms over a lifetime. Our job is to set her up for success as an adult. That’s where swimming can and does help.
First, a quick refresher. In everyday life, kids with ADD/ADHD struggle mightily with the following:
- Making careless mistakes.
- Difficulty sustaining attention.
- Failure to listen.
- Difficulty with instructions.
- Poor organization.
- Forgetful and easily distracted.
- Can’t remain seated/still when required to do so.
- Always in motion/restless all the time.
The power of swimming to combat these symptoms in a child with ADD/ADHD is threefold.
Part One: The Physical Benefits of Swimming on ADD/ADHD
Increases Shoulder Strength.
Swimming is one of the best full body activities to increase shoulder strength. That matters, because improved shoulder muscle strength enables our bodies to significantly improve our lung capacity. And, as it turns out, swimming does that too.
Increases Lung Capacity
When our bodies are submerged, the hydrostatic pressure of the water puts increased pressure on the lungs, making them work harder. When we engage in aerobic activity (swimming) in the water, our lungs work up to 200% harder than if we were running or biking. This, in turn, increases our lung capacity over time, resulting in increased energy flow to the brain and muscles. More energy and more oxygen results in a better, more sustained ability to focus for children with ADHD.
Increases Vital Neurochemicals.
Exercise essentially “acts like a drug” for people with ADD/ADHD. According to this article by Everyday Health,
While no one knows the exact cause of ADHD, research indicates it may be related to a dysfunction with the neurochemical dopamine. Exercise not only encourages the production of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the brain, but by doing so has the same effect on the brain as the stimulant methylphenidate (Ritalin).
While the focusing effects of exercise are not as long-lasting as medication, swimming can be an essential tool in a child’s ability to focus, as well as providing a safe, constructive energy outlet for kids perpetually in motion.
(Next time we’ll dive into the cognitive and social benefits of swimming for our kids with ADD/ADHD.)
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.