Healthy lifestyle activities for children with ADHD
Fay Karpouzis is a retired health professional and a former researcher in Paediatric ADHD. Most importantly, she is a loving mother of two daughters, one of whom was diagnosed with ADHD 20 years ago. Fay has coupled her personal experiences as a mum, with her clinical and research experience to create a series of evidence-based children’s books, called “But why…?”.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) affects 11 per cent of children in Australia.The core features of AD/HD are the persistence of chronic, developmentally inappropriate patterns of inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity.
The scientific literature reveals that two treatments and their combination are effective treatment options for children with AD/HD. They are psychosocial treatments,pharmacological treatmentsand their combination. Despite the scientific evidence, controversy exists over the effectiveness and safety of psychostimulant medications.
This controversy has led to increased parental anxiety and as a result, parents have been seeking alternative solutions. Over the years, CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies have become popular for children with developmental and behavioral disorders, such as AD/HD, and are sought more often by these parents than with any other condition.
It has become clear over the years that diet, exercise, relaxation and sleep all impact children’s development, behaviour and learning. Let’s take a look at some of the research behind these lifestyle activities.
The Western Australia Pregnancy Cohort Study (also known as the Raine Study) was the first study to link the Western-style diet to ADHD. This study has been running for more than 27 years and has followed and monitored 2868 children. According to the results from this study, a child that is raised on a typical Western-style diet, is two times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The typical Western-style diet described in the study includes: takeaway foods, processed meats, high-fat dairy products, confectionery, French fries, refined grains and soft drinks. Conversely, children raised on a ‘healthy’ diet consisting of high intakes of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes and fish, were not likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. So, what your grandchild eats, matters!
Let’s have a look at the some of the benefits of exercise for children with ADHD. One study which was conducted in 2013, looked at the effect of exercise in children with ADHD. The researchers found that children with ADHD improved in processing information and exhibited better control after exercise. They also improved in reading and arithmetic.
According to research findings, exercise improves… focus, memory, executive functioning, cognition, cardiovascular circulation, aerobic capacity, balance and coordination. It also enhances phonemic awareness and reduces stress and distraction. You may be surprised to know that research shows that exercise activities also benefit seniors in the same way they benefit children. In case you are wondering, research backed activities that help children with ADHD are… Tai Chi, table tennis, swimming, dancing and yoga. So, why not get active with your grandchild, what have you got to loose?
Which brings me to the next area of importance, and that is, relaxation. There’s no doubt about it, children are growing up in stressful times and experience anxiety and depression. In particular, children with ADHD have more to worry about as they struggle to keep up in the classroom and to fit in socially. So, I do believe they need to be taught strategies to cope with their stresses, regardless of whether they are real or perceived.
A study that was conducted in 2004, investigated whether meditation could be used as a family treatment method for children with ADHD. A six-week program on Sahaja Yoga Meditation was taught to parents and children with ADHD, at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
The results of the study showed improvements in children’s ADHD behaviour, self-esteem and relationships. The children were interviewed and expressed feeling less anxious at home with improved sleeping routines, they were also more able to concentrate at school, and had less conflict at school. Parents reported feeling happier, less stressed and more capable of managing their child’s behaviour.
Consider trying some of the relaxation techniques with your grandchild. You can both benefit from… yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation. Be a great role model for your grandchild. Sometimes, grandparents can get children to do things their parents can’t.
I’m sure you already know that sleep is important, but did you know that sleep deprivation symptoms and ADHD look very similar? Poor sleep patterns lead to decreases in concentration, attention and creativity, increases in impulsivity, mood swings and stress, and poor social skills.
One particular research project revealed that the relaxation response, which is the opposite of the stress response, can be brought on by… meditation, yoga, yoga breathing and repetitive prayer. The relaxation response is considered to be an effective therapeutic tool that counteracts the adverse effects of stress in disorders including… hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging. Not bad, is it? By helping your grandchild with ADHD, you may also reap some benefits for yourself.
Speaking of benefits for the grandparents, one published study revealed that grandparents who babysit their grandchildren tend to live longer than seniors who do not take care of loved ones or other people. Well, I call that a win-win scenario. I hope you feel that way. I know my girls still have fond memories of my mother looking after them. For the record, they are still creating beautiful memories with my mother.
The last area I would like to cover is about the impact of ADHD on learning. Unfortunately for children with ADHD, the research shows they have poorer educational outcomes. They are more likely to… produce poor grades; have lower scores on reading and math tests; repeat a class; get detention; be expelled; drop out of school early and are less likely to go on to tertiary education.
This is a sobering thought for both parents and grandparents. The way to change this trajectory is to intervene early, with a lot of love, patience and perseverance. It is important to instill a love of learning at an early age and it is very important to make learning fun.
The points I covered above about healthy diets, exercising and relaxing daily and sleeping well every night, will help set the foundations for learning. There are certain activities that you can incorporate into your grandchildren’s lives that will positively impact on their learning. Learning to read and play music, painting and drawing are activities that help prepare the brain for learning and help improve memory.
According to one expert, “When students are engaged and motivated and there is little or no stress”, information flows through to the higher centres of learning in the brain. Isn’t this true for all of us.
Well, I have definitely given you a lot to digest. My mission is to provide you with plenty of choices that can help you help your grandchild, especially if they have been diagnosed with ADHD. Actually, I’m rather hoping that all of the advice I have given benefits both you and your grandchild. After all, making healthy lifestyle choices are good for all of us.
My books are filled with simple, practical and fun ways to inspire both you and your grandchild to make healthy lifestyle choices together. The books are best suited for the 4-8 age group.If you want to download a free copy of my first ebook, to read to your grandchild you can go to: http://www.butwhyseries.com/free-ebook