The Benefits of Martial Arts for Children with ADHD

22 May, 2015




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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder that affects about two to five percent of children to National Health Services (NHS).

The common symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, difficulty in staying focused, paying attention and difficulty in controlling behaviour. Children with ADHD fixate on the present, and are unable to take their minds to the past and the future, even immediate past or future. As such they find it difficult to complete tasks spread over an extended period of time or activities that involve complicated instructions. However, this also means that activities that require increased concentration in the present suits them well - and Martial Arts fits this description.

Martial Arts such as Karate offer a host of benefits for children with ADHD. Apart from offering them the physical benefits of exercise, it improves cardiovascular health, gives them better strength and flexibility, and most importantly, could lessen ADHD symptoms such as impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Several studies prove that a complex physical activity such as Martial Arts strengthens the brain's neural networks enabling children suffering from ADHD to practise self-control.

According to babycenter.com, the intense mental and physical involvement that Martial Arts exercises such as Karate demands, allow children suffering from ADHD to immerse themselves in the activity and complete it well. John Ratey, M.D, who has written the book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain," opines that exercise helps children suffering from ADHD in many ways and Martial Arts exercises such as Karate offers more benefits compared to other forms of exercise such as playing football.

Regular Martial Arts exercises stimulates the frontal cortex, cerebellum and limbic system. This influences the brain cells concerned with working memory, making priorities, sequencing and sustaining attention creating a positive effect on the child's attention system. Regular exercise increases the flow of brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine which affect the brain’s attention system’s ability to stay regular and consistent thereby increasing alertness in children with ADHD.

The benefits of Martial Arts Classes extend beyond the physical to improving social intelligence and mental discipline. In a typical Karate class, the student starts and ends the session by bowing to his or her master and the entire session demands discipline to stand quietly and wait for the instructors next command. All this helps to instil self-control and self-discipline which often remains underdeveloped in children with ADHD. The exercise involves punches, kicks and blocks, all requiring strict attention and concentration, further helping the child. Moreover, many ADHD affected children can be aggressive and Karate offers a healthy way to vent out such aggression.

Children suffering from ADHD usually suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence too. The multiple benefits that derive from Martial Arts exercises boost self-confidence and self-esteem, which in turn could translate to improved behaviour and improved grades. Children suffering from ADHD who take up Martial Arts can become role-models for other similarly placed children to emulate.

While Karate is a mainstream Martial Art, there are many other types of Martial Arts including Judo, Aikido and Taekwondo that are equally beneficial for children with ADHD.

Finally, a word of caution. Most experts recommend the use of Martial Arts exercises to complement rather than replace regular ADHD medications. While combining Martial Arts with medication could help generally lessen the symptoms of ADHD, it is important to consult a registered medical practitioner to ensure that the exercises are safe and appropriate, considering the child's situation. It is also important to be flexible on the mode of exercise and the regime, as each child is unique.

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