How ADHD Affects Sports and Exercise for Women

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ADHD is incredibly common among elite athletes, and yet, for the majority of people who suffer from it, ADHD makes it doubly difficult to achieve.

I was 37 when I was first suggested that I might have ADHD, so I obviously went straight to Google to see what kind of business I was in. I landed on an article about the frequency of ADHD in elite athletes – Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Nicola Adams, gymnast Louis Smith and Shaquille O’Neal are all in the club – and thought, maybe , everyone was wrong about my diagnosis after all. I am not athletic. I hadn’t even owned a pair of running shoes until I was 30, and the sweatshirts I wore in 1995 were really just for show.

The first incident that I would blame for my lack of interest in any type of movement was a ballet class I took when I was 4. That afternoon I had touched a hot lawn mower because my mom told me not to, so my hands were wrapped in cellophane as my fingerprints slowly melted away. I couldn’t hold the hands of the other kids in the class, and without the familiar pushing and pulling of their movements, I had no idea where I needed to be in the routine we’d been practicing for nearly a year. ‘a year. The teacher shook his head, told me to LISTEN. I was ashamed and didn’t go back after that.

It was during my ADHD assessment that I first realized that it could be something else that made me hate my uncooperative body.

In school, I often started a new sport with some confidence, but I gave it up in two sessions, either bored or beaten. I was sent from the pitcher’s mound to the tennis court as a teacher after the teacher tried to find a sport I could play well, where I wouldn’t fall, forget the rules, or slow down not everybody. I thought I found it when they gave us a fashion semester – it was the closest I felt to being happy in these rough knit tees – but when it was time to be rated on the routine set for the class, the assessment was that even though I had the personality for it (you bet I did), I was lacking in coordination, and I had a C. Within a few months, I knew how to fake a sprained ankle and “heavy flow”, and that was.

I blamed my low self-esteem and complete lack of confidence in my body for avoiding the exercise that followed. I was too weak and erratic. Not lazy, because ironically my default pace is “running”, whether it’s from the bus to work when I’m already an hour early or just browsing the aisles of the supermarkets. But insufficient. It was during my ADHD assessment that I first realized that it could be something else that made me hate my uncooperative body.

“To play most sports and forms of exercise, you need to maintain a routine and follow instructions,” said consultant psychiatrist Mohamed Abdelghani, MBBCh, FRCPsych, MSc, of Dyad Medical in London. “You have to work to see a gradual improvement in your performance – these are often not immediate results. You may need to commit to early starts and monotonous, repetitive practice. You may need to take turns if it’s a team sport. All of this can be incredibly difficult for someone with ADHD, who is likely to be more clumsy, restless, restless, impulsive, and have a hard time following instructions and timing. “

Check, verify and verify. Spending tons of money on head-to-toe Sweaty Betty outfits and a new yoga mat, to drop three classes? Yeah. Focusing on goal setting and a pre-work swim routine only to find that getting in and out of a pool is really boring? Same. I realize now that this means that I never gave myself the time to improve in anything. But this boredom also has very real physical fallout in a body with ADHD: with the drop in dopamine, there is a huge energy crash, to the point that I was dizzy and had to sit down.

“We often see this ‘boom and bust’ in ADHD – energy levels are not well regulated,” said Dr Abdelghani. “It’s hard to predict when you’ll feel tired, so you won’t have to commit to regular classes, especially when you’re juggling other demands at home and at work. Some days you won’t be able to perform. “

There is also some evidence to suggest that while boys, men, and AMAB (man assigned at birth) members are just as likely to be affected, some gender norms mean that girls are simply less likely to be affected. participate in organized sports from an early age. “Girls receive less social support for playing sports, they may feel they like sports less than boys, and puberty can also make girls more reluctant, whether because of concerns. regarding their shape or body image, or adapting to the changes they’re going through, ”said clinical psychologist Jo Steer, PsychD, BSc, author of Understanding ADHD in Girls and Women.

Then there’s the low self-esteem that you have to deal with – girls, women, and AFAB (Women Assigned at Birth) people with ADHD are much more likely to experience a general lack of self-esteem. , which makes classroom activities a challenge.

“[Coaches] should be informed about ADHD, its impact on the person it trains and the reasonable adjustments to be made. “

“Any negative feedback will also be detrimental,” said Dr Abdelghani. “Depending on the level of emotional deregulation of a person with ADHD, some comments are going to really hit home. It’s harder to overcome performance anxiety if there’s an element of trauma involved, and so you do. do your best to avoid it in the future. “

But before I finally resign myself to the sofa, poor physical health often goes hand in hand with ADHD. Exercise is therefore essential to improve this image and can also help relieve symptoms. all day. ”Exercise also increases dopamine in the brain, which helps improve attention and focus in ADHD, as well as endorphins to make us feel good.

Imagine, then, if this pattern of poor performance, criticism and eventual avoidance could be broken in childhood, so that more of us could hope for a more balanced approach to sport. Dr Steer believes the coach’s approach is at the heart of this change: “They need to be educated about ADHD, its impact on the person they are coaching and the reasonable adjustments that need to be made. For example, maybe the girl can be given a task while she waits, then there should be time for a quick recording following the group’s instructions to make sure she has heard and is clear about it. his role. girls who excel in athletics, karate, trampoline and gymnastics. “

Certainly, as an adult armed with a better understanding of my ADHD symptoms – specifically, my boredom, inattention, fluctuating energy levels, and difficulty following directions – I know I’m better off with one. teacher for a one-on-one session. This dedicated attention keeps me focused on the work at hand and ensures I’m doing it right, and my instructor knows things vary and won’t let me try to get out of my way by bringing up Adele’s new album. It’s too expensive to do forever, but I plan to mix it up with the shortest HIIT videos I can find, swimming when he feels safe COVID again (channel my inner Michael Phelps, because you can’t don’t really get bored of swimming – you either splash or drown, do you?), and dance. ADHD writer and colleague Natalie Hughes directed me to The Fitness Marshall videos on YouTube for something lively and stimulating that isn’t like a workout. I’ve also heard from so many women with ADHD that cycling is great for them, so if Peloton is looking for a Neurodivergent Ambassador who may or may not quit after a week, I’m here ready and willing in my brand new bike shorts.


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