Our brain health thrives on new experiences.
There was never a more stressful time than when I earned my doctorate from the start of 2011 until nearly the end of 2014. I was enrolled as a graduate student at Logan University during this time. When I entered the Chiropractic program, my life changed.
I always had challenges with “school” and overcoming my own ADHD. When I entered the chiropractic program, each day was rewarding and frustrating. It was ALWAYS a grueling workload of studying, classes, and high-stakes tests.
Winter has always been the most challenging time of year for me to point my focus on my responsibilities. If you have attention deficits, read on to hear some of my personal experiences from which you can gain perspective.
The Big Picture
For me, skiing has always been a therapeutic release and a perfect example of how being happy and moving a lot are tools for managing ADHD. To understand the big picture of this article, skiing is the tool I hope to use here to illuminate how our brains deal with holding attention.
We know that new experiences that are “outside the box” and uncomfortably new to us are a healthy brain-training exercise.
The complex movements involved in skiing, coupled with the danger and thrill of the sport, make it my favorite way to spark the creativity and focus-control systems of my brain. Every turn I make is over new snow, and even the same runs down the mountain can feel like a new trail when you take a different route down the fall line.
We need to often have new experiences like that as part of our plan to control our attention.
Since around the late 1960s, scientists have been working to understand how our brains are much less “hard-wired” and machine-like than we previously thought. With all of the information and clinical theories about brain function, the great majority of studies have been aimed at proving the ways our brains forge new connections between brain cells that have stopped being used as much.
We now know of processes like neurogenesis, which can be stimulated by movement and exercise. Research shows that even something as simple as a new thought can forge a new pathway in the brain and create lasting connections with proper repetition.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment.
As a Maine ski instructor, I have taught at Black Mountain in Rumford and Lost Valley in Auburn; I have observed how learning to ski proves that the ADHD brain thrives on new learning experiences. It’s incredible how quickly people with attention deficit labels can focus their brains and learn to ski. It’s impressive how quickly the human brain can create complex new pathways to help us ski with more grace and balance with each session. Also of note, the intense activity level of skiing is perfect for building physical strength, which we know will improve the chemical and electrical balance of the brain, too.
If you want to dive deeper into your study on the brain, I recommend purchasing a copy of this book: The Brain That Changes Itself By Norman Doidge, MD
If you want to dive deeper into your study on the brain and exercise, I recommend purchasing a copy of this book: Spark By John J. Ratey, MD
Some More About Attention Deficits and Skiing
I’m sure this example will resonate with many moms and dads this time of year: your child receives regular reports of misbehavior, inability to control physical hyperactivity, and an addiction to talking out in class or making impulsive decisions in everyday adult life. Many who study ADHD would say that these behaviors come organically from these children’s and adults’ brain physiology as a byproduct of the “under-aroused” state of the brain that is associated with attention deficits. The ADHD brain cannot muster up the natural state of “brain-wide arousal” or activity to create and hold onto focus. This is one of the standard clinical thought processes behind the gold-standard prescriptions of stimulant medications and also why activities like complex forms of exercise and regular imagination/exploration seem to melt away the symptoms of ADHD when performed consistently.
The sensory stimulation of the act of skiing provides a rush of freedom and reward to the brain. The tendency for children and adults with attention deficits to excel at activities they enjoy is no surprise to most. What can be challenging to understand for some parents, employers, and teachers is why this same intense focus can’t be reproduced for homework or work responsibilities. Those activities may not be stimulating enough to entertain the brain’s complex stimulation needs. Try suggesting the person living with ADHD in your life pace around, stand, or walk on a treadmill while reading or exercising, and play before any extended learning period.
The snowy season in Maine presents endlessly unpredictable possibilities for residents, and this type of stress can contribute to sleepless nights, less effective attention spans, and a lack of preventative health efforts.