You probably know that fidget spinners were originally designed to help kids with ADHD (specifically, the hyper part). But if you’re looking for other holistic help for your child or teen with attention struggles, read on.
A growing number of research studies are revealing the impact that many of our choices have on how well we pay attention. Among these choices are what we eat, how we move, and even how we exercise our mental skills.
The impact of diet on ADHD
According to a study published in the international Journal of Attention Disorders, kids who eat a typical “Western” diet are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD by the age of 14. The study looked at the eating patterns of 1,800 adolescents, classifying diets into two categories: “Healthy” or “Western.”
A Western diet, as defined by the study, includes a lot of fast foods; sugary, fried, or processed foods; and high-fat dairy. A “healthy” eating pattern consists of a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish.
The results showed an association between being diagnosed with ADHD, and a diet high in dairy, sugar, fast food, fried foods, and processed foods.
Associate Professor Wendy Oddy, leader of Nutrition Studies at Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research where the study was conducted, suggests that “a Western dietary pattern may indicate the adolescent has a less optimal fatty acid profile, whereas a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to hold benefits for mental health and optimal brain function.”
Other studies support the idea that diets rich in fatty acids can improve ADHD symptoms. For example, a report released by the University of Copenhagen reviewed the scientific literature on diet and ADHD. According to Dr. Kim Fleischer Michaelsen, who is heading the study, research shows that “fatty acids from fatty fish moderate the symptoms” of ADHD. She also said that the review indicated that elimination diets are also promising.
While experts agree that more research is needed on this topic, it makes sense that parents of kids with ADHD should opt for the healthiest dietary choices possible. The Amen Clinic has published a list of the 50 best foods for the brain.
Here is a sample:
Avocados Bell peppers (yellow, green, red, and orange) Chicken, skinless Beets Blackberries Yams and sweet potatoes Broccoli Wild salmon Cranberries Kiwi Almonds, raw Oats Tuna Bananas Turkey, skinless
And if you think that healthy cooking is time consuming, consider pulling out your crock pot. Preparing healthy dinners in a slow cooker is a great way to avoid all that cutting and slicing in the kitchen at the end of a long day.
The impact of physical exercise on attention struggles
“Exercise turns on the attention system,” says John Ratey, M.D., as associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. When he talks about the “attention system,” he explains that he’s talking about the brain’s executive functions, including sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.
The author of the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. Ratey says that, “On a practical level, [exercise] causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”
He goes as far as to tell people to think “of exercise as medication,” adding, “For a very small handful of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD), it may actually be a replacement for stimulants, but for most, it’s complementary—something they should absolutely do, along with taking meds, to help increase attention and improve mood.”
Dr. Ratey specifically mentions taekwondo, ballet, and gymnastics as activities that give the attention system a good workout, although he said that even walking for half an hour, four times a week, will make a difference.
The impact of brain training on attention skills
One-on-one brain training is a form of cognitive training that pairs clients of all ages with their own personal brain trainers for intense mental workouts. A one-on-one brain training program at LearningRx, for example, consists of working face-to-face with a personal brain trainer about five hours a week. Programs typically run for 12 to 32 weeks, depending on the program.
LearningRx is the largest one-on-one brain training company, with 80 centers in the U.S. and an additional 40 global locations. And while LearningRx does not diagnose or treat ADHD, it does strengthen the brain’s foundational cognitive skills, including the skill of attention.
One study measured the attention performance of 5,416 children and adults who came to LearningRx having been diagnosed with ADHD. On average, these clients scored in the 42nd percentile in attention, indicating that their attention skills were below the skills of 68 percent of their peers. After completing a LearningRx brain training program, the average performance in attention for these clients rose to the 66th percentile. In other words, after brain training, attention performance went from “below average” to “above average.”
If your child is struggling with attention, changes in diet, physical activity, and brain training can make a difference.
Michael Ginsberg is the Executive Director and Owner of LearningRx Brain Training Centers in Marlboro and Red Bank, NJ. He became involved in the benefits of brain training after his own child was having difficulty staying attentive and reading at grade level at the completion of third grade. For more information or for a complete evaluation of your child’s cognitive learning abilities you can contact the LearningRx center at 732-444-8579.