April 10, 2013 at 6:12 PM ET
Healthy habits have a lot of benefits and are a key part of any wellness strategy—particularly for adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Here are five things you start doing right now to be healthier and help treat your ADHD.
Regular aerobic exercise increases the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, two neurotransmitters that tend to be low in people with ADHD. They're the same neurotransmitters targeted by stimulant medications used for ADHD. In addition, exercise improves your memory while lowering feelings of stress and anxiety. For adults with hyperactivity regular exercise has the added benefit of burning off excess energy, says Raul Seballos, M.D., vice chair of preventive medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
Studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, may be helpful for people with ADHD. If you aren’t eating fish a few times a week, says Dr. Seballos, who treats adults with ADHD, “I recommend one to two grams a day of fish oil supplements.”
Avoid energy drinks
People with ADHD, especially young adults, often self-medicate with high-caffeine energy drinks without realizing it. This can be dangerous when combined with stimulant medications. The combination caused an abnormally rapid heartbeat, called a cardiac arrhythmia, which happened to one of Seballos’ patients.
When you sleep well, it’s easier to remember and plan. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is linked to problems with attention, learning, memory and what psychologists call “executive function,” meaning the ability to stay organized. It’s not surprising that sleep problems can make ADHD symptoms worse, but it’s a vicious cycle, since many adults with ADHD have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night and not getting enough truly restorative sleep. Try practicing these good sleep habits to relieve some of the symptoms of ADHD.
Chronic stress may contribute to adult ADHD symptoms. When you’re stressed, it’s harder to remember what you’ve heard or read, and it’s harder to make decisions. On the positive side, actions taken to reduce stress can help reduce ADHD symptoms. Several studies have found that mindfulness meditation, in which you sit quietly while paying attention to your breathing and thoughts without judging them, can improve attention and organizational ability in children, adolescents and adults.
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Article written by Robert A. Barnett, for Cleveland Clinic Wellness
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.