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Nutrition & Exercise


At present there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the development of guidelines for the dietary treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Current recommendations remain a balanced diet and good nutrition.

Therefore the approach for your child’s overall health and nutrition is a diet that limits sugary and processed foods, and rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Dietary Interventions

  • Some preliminary studies suggest that deficiencies of certain nutrients, including iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, are associated with ADHD symptoms and that, in these instances, correcting the deficiency might help reduce some symptoms.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are known to support brain function. Some studies show that omega-3s improve hyperactivity, impulsivity, and concentration in children and adults with ADHD. They are found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and some eggs, milk products and flaxseed. An easy way to boost your child’s intake is through fish oil supplements.
  • Try to include a little protein and complex carbohydrates in each meal or snack. These foods will help your child feel more alert while decreasing hyperactivity.
  • Schedule regular meals or snacks no more than three hours apart. This will help keep your child’s blood sugar level – minimizing irritability and supporting concentration and focus.
  • A good intake of water is necessary as the capillaries in the brain dilate when dehydrated.  In prolonged dehydration the cells shrink, and children have shown improved IQ scores when drinking more water.
  • There is no evidence that food additives cause ADHD, but some studies show that certain food colourings and preservaties may increase hyperactive behaviour in some children.
  • If you suspect that this is the case with your child, implementing a food diary to assess whether there is a link between certain foods and behaviour may help to provide a more suitable dietary regimen for them.
  • Many people with ADHD are vulnerable to food allergies. Research has shown that an elimination diet, in which potential food allergens are removed from children’s diets, can be effective in managing ADHD symptoms. The child’s GP can help determine whether allergy testing or an elimination diet is appropriate. Any major changes in diet should be supervised by a suitably qualified nutritional therapist or doctor.


There is evidence to suggest that physical activity has a beneficial influence on brain function in both children and adults, particularly cognitive processes such as planning, time management, inhibition and working memory.

Specifically, for patients with ADHD, regular exercise is thought to have a wide range of positive effects such as improving memory and concentration, decreasing hyperactivity and impulsivity, elevating mood, and combating anxiety and depression.

Physical activity not only boosts blood flow to the brain, but also helps balance brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

Exercise Guidelines

  • Ideally, children and young people should get at least an hour of physical activity every day.
  • It is well worth scheduling workouts into your child’s daily routine if he/she isn’t getting enough exercise at school. Suggest after-school activities to them, eg. judo, football, dance or gymnastics.
  • For older teens and adults if not active at the moment slowly increase your level of activity. Set reasonable goals – exercise for 10 to 15 minutes daily for the first 10 days, then to maintain real benefits exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
  • Some individuals, including those with ADHD, do not have the discipline to make exercise a part of their life. However, it is one of the simplest ways to help reduce many symptoms.
  • Individuals, especially thoses with ADHD, can become bored without diversity, so vary the kind of exercise and try breaking your 30-minute workout into two 15-minute periods.
  • You can hire a personal trainer or join a gym, but there are plenty of inexpensive ways to exercise too.
  • You don’t have to run marathons, or become a body builder, evidence suggests a brisk run will do the trick, or perhaps a cycle ride or swim.
  • Remember, keeping to an exercise plan can be made easier by choosing an exercise that is enjoyable, such as dance or sports, and starting out slowly.
  • Having an exercise companion is a good way to stay motivated whatever your age!

Where Can I Find More Information?

For further detailed information
Find out more

Food for the Brain
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Simply Wellbeing
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Change for Life
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Mental Health
Find out more

More Information

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