By: Scott McConnell, ACMHC
Have you ever felt that your brain is running a million miles a second? Perhaps it was when you were trying to complete a task, make a decision, or contemplate something, but your mind kept racing and wandering to different things that made it hard to focus or relax. If you have ever had this experience it does not automatically mean that there is something wrong with you. Your brain just might need a little boost to achieve the clarity that you need.
The Department of Psychiatry at University of Utah contributed to a study that examined the effects of aerobic exercise on adolescents who met diagnostic criteria for ADHD (Choi et al., 2015). The results of the study found a correlation between aerobic exercise and a reduction of ADHD symptoms accompanied by increased activity in the brain’s right frontal cortex (2015). These changes were observed after only 6 weeks of aerobic exercise (2015)!
Why would movement help the brain focus? To answer this question, we will take a closer look at a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. One of the primary known functions of the basal ganglia is intentional motor movements (Augustine et al., 2012). When an intentional motor movement is taken, then the basal ganglia is activated (2012). Within the basal ganglia is one of the brain’s major dopamine output centers: the substantia nigra (2012). There are several circuits from the substania nigra, which includes pathways to the brain’s main hub for executive functioning: the prefrontal cortex (Knierim, 2017). Studies have shown correlations between executive functions being reinforced from this pathway between the basal ganglia and the prefrontal cortex (2017). Exercise and movement do not only support this circuit between the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia, however. Additional research has shown increased oxygenation of the brain, which led to increased brain activity, after exercise (Choi et al., 2015).
In a modernized world where many people sit in their cars to get to jobs where they sit for most of the day, it is simply too easy to become movement deprived without even realizing it. The best solution to thinking clearly and focusing is not always an intake of caffeine or sugar that will eventually wear off and cause your energy to crash. Instead, the most beneficial choice may be to take a walk, dance to a song, or simply move. Have you struggled with focusing or motivation and nothing has seemed to help? Make an appointment with a therapist. You do not have to walk that path alone. Take a move toward a new beginning.
Augustine, G., Fitzpatrick, D., Hall, W., LaMantia, A., Purves, D., & White, L. (2012). Neuroscience, (5th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, INC.
Choi, J., Han, D., Kang, K., Jung, H., & Renshaw, P. (2015). Aerobic Exercise and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Brain Research. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 33–39.
Knierim, J. (2017). Neuroscience Online. Retrieved from http://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/s3/chapter04.html.