Why ADD / ADHD Adults Don’t Exercise

by | May 18, 2011 | ADHD Symptom Control | 11 comments

exercise helps control adhdI’m curious. Why don’t you exercise? Especially if you know how essential exercise is to managing ADD / ADHD Symptoms?

I don’t ask this question to make you feel guilty. I’m simply trying to make you aware of what’s blocking your path to ADD Success. Awareness is a necessary skill for managing ADD / ADHD.

My exercise-challenged ADD coaching clients can’t consistently work out for two main reasons:

  • Not Enough Time. That’s where an ADD coach, like me, can help you set priorities and stay focused and motivated. Chances are if you can’t make time to exercise, you can use help managing time in other areas, too.
  • Boredom. Frankly, I’d rather get my teeth drilled than walk on a treadmill at a gym. Swimming laps? Just drown me now and get the pain over with. What about you?

I’ve decided there are two types of exercise: Fake Exercise and Real Exercise.

To me, Fake Exercise is going to a gym and walking on the treadmill while watching TV. It’s also walking the dogs on the same route day-after-day. Fake Exercise bores the person. The adult with ADHD can start their Fake Exercise routine with great intentions, but can’t force themselves to continue it for very long. Eventually they will wiggle out of it.

Real Exercise is doing something, well, real. Like dancing or playing tennis or Frisbee. Real Exercise is more fun. It naturally pulls you in. You don’t do it merely for the sake of working out but to play as well.

When a client can’t force herself into a Fake Exercise routine, one hurdle is getting her to accept she’ll lose her gym membership fee. The money becomes a block. But, if working out at the gym isn’t compelling she needs to find Real Exercise that is. Something fun, that encourages her to go back day after day, week after week.

In my next post I’ll share how my ADD coaching clients and I find the time and motivation to exercise. Some real life ADD Success and exercise stories.

Adults with ADD / ADHD have to sneak up on their exercise. When exercise bores you get creative. Find a way to get exercise that pulls you in and makes you want to get up and get moving. Key in to what you like to do. Run marathons? Dance? Fence?


  1. Jeffs ADD Mind

    I hate going to a gym. I’d shoot myself from the boredom. So…for exercise…I get out and walk for 30 minutes or more. But then we’ve got the interminable rain here in NY and I want to shoot myself because I want to go outside…but the weather forces me to stay in. As a result…a few days pass by and I realize I didn’t get out at all.

    And…yes…I could do some indoor exercise (I have a stationary bike) but I really really need to be outside in the sun.


    P.S. Did I forget to mention I have Seasonal Affective Disorder? 😉

  2. Lee

    Thank you!!! That’s the explanation I was looking for: real exercise and Fake exercise. I love to Mountainbike its more strenuous than working out at the gym so why would I prefer it? Because it’s more challenging and rewarding because out in the woods and hills its real. WoW I get it! It makes so much sense.

    so now I have an explanation but I still have a dilemma I still have to do weight training for my back how do I get myself to the gym and once I’m there to finish my routine? I hate it because it is so boring. I’ve tried personal trainer (too expensive) and going with a friend which works temporarily but isn’t feasible for three times a week.

    How to motivate myself after a horribly boring day at work to go bore myself with weights in my free time???


    • danarayburn

      Is there another way to strengthen your back besides boring weight training? I’m thinking of yoga, but would a different class do? I’m also wondering how much weight training for your back do you really need to do? Can you make it more quick and simple?

      • Lee

        Hi Dana thanks for your answer, but I’m not sure there really is an answer.

        I asked a specialist for my condition and the truth is, there is no alternative . I have do intense weight training with the kind of heavy weights only available on machines in a gym in order to stimulate bone growth in my spine. I went to the gym today and hated every minute of it.

        I would imagine you’d suggest to listen to music or a book or a podcast and I’ve tried all that. It still is horrible

        I think the problem for anyone with ADHD is that you spend All day using will power to keep yourself from blurting things out or doing something impulsive and stupid so there’s just not enough will power left for getting yourself to do the things which are good for you like going to the gym, or going to the gym is just another miserable thing you have to suffer through like boring meetings at work.

        Anyway thanks again I do enjoy your articles


        • Adriane

          Perhaps you need an exercise buddy–someone who can go with you or who can you make you go. Schedule these workout dates with a friend. Or can you do it first thing before you can think of how boring it is? Good luck.

    • Suzanne

      Hi Lee

      I’ve been practising yoga for years and it is really good for strengthening the core muscles, and if you find the right class it is really challenging and satisfying. Vinyasa and Hatha are both good active options. You might find it tough at first if you’re used to weight training because it develops muscle stamina rather than strength.

      It’s best to do classes, at least until you understand what the postures are aiming to achieve, which is not always obvious just from watching a video of someone who is really flexible. A good teacher should explain and give options for those less experienced through advanced, and advise you on adjustments to make to avoid strain on the back.

      Resist the temptation to try to “achieve” full postures immediately. This is especially important if you have back problems, but in any case yoga should be about maintaining good form. For example, people doing “triangle” pose often want to reach the floor, but they compromise the side stretch by doing that.

      • Dana Rayburn

        Great advice, Suzanne. Thank you! I’ll add that with ADHD we need to accept that we may find it harder to reach that ‘zen’ place where our mind quiets. The more you practice the easier it gets. Distracted yoga is better than no yoga. Warmly, Dana

  3. Nikki Schwartz

    I love the line about “sneaking up on exercise”! I simply detest “exercise”, the gym, treadmills, etc. I would rather do anything than go to a gym. I have always had to “sneak up on it”… I have done many different things so that it doesn’t feel like “exercise”: biked to and from class in college, and home for lunch; rollerbladed; learned to ride a ripstik skate board, bought a Wii right after it came out and hoola hooped my way to cardio; played raquetball; took dance in college; became a whitewater raft guide; learned to swing dance; and most recently bought a trykke three wheeled scooter (by far the most comprehensive workout).

    Now that I have had Baby #2 (who is 6 mos old), I am looking for new ideas… roller blades, biking, trykking, ripstik-ing, are all out with a baby… So, I am researching new options for my blog post this week and for myself.

  4. Jac

    I have a physical therapy routine that I absolutely HATE because it’s so boring. I know it helps me to do it, but it’s not enough to get me engaged by itself. Does anyone here have any suggestions for how to make prescribed exercise routines more interesting? My knee and I really could use the help.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Jac, this is a tough one! Sometimes PT therapy exercise routines are SO complicated. I find I do mine best when I’m at the gym, before my workout. Perhaps play music. Do it while watching TV or a favorite show. Get really clear on WHY you want to do the exercises – what are the consequences if you don’t? Make it as easy as possible – maybe not as precise as the PT wants but something is better than noting. Hope this helps! Dana

  5. Suzanne

    I think your reasons above why people don’t exercise are more generally applicable. For people with the ADD/ADHD it’s more complicated.

    I have the hyperactivity and I think it makes it a bit easier, as you say above I find something I actually enjoy, and the seemingly boundless energy is there (and gets used in a production way!). I walk fast that walking medium distances rather than taking transport appeals to me.

    For people without the hyperactivity (like my friend) the energy levels aren’t there. The impulse to take the easiest option often wins.

    Also, I think “not getting around to it” is a bigger problem that time. For this reason my exercise regime consists of schedule classes and I tell myself “I go to that class on Monday/Thursday” rather than allowing myself to argue my way out of it with “shall I go…?”.

    Group activities are also good, cycling, walking etc. The activity is planned and you work around that time rather than thinking “I’ll go in an hour, tomorrow, next week”. Meetup is really good for finding such groups.


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