Martial arts as an alternative treatment method for ADHD

Article reproduced in Kung Fu Magazine. Kungfu Magazine first published the essay on this website:

23 June, 2023

Xueyuan Yangchen

ADHD, ADHD, taichi, wushu, martial arts, chirld

The article was first published in Kung Fu Magazine.

Reproduced editor: Xue Yuan 

ADHD, also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a common condition characterized by behavioral disorders in children. The core clinical symptom of ADHD in children is the lack of self-control, which is reflected in difficulty concentrating, excessive movements, poor motor coordination, and impulsive actions. Individuals living with ADHD could affect their families, schools, and society. Currently, there are no particularly effective drug treatments for ADHD. This article explores the feasibility of practicing martial arts to alleviate ADHD in children.

ADHD in children mainly manifests as a lack of focus, excessive movements, and impulsivity accompanied by cognitive impairment and learning difficulties. There are at least 40 million young patients in the world. In the United States, 3% to 6% of school-age children suffer from ADHD, of which boys are 3 to 4 times more likely to be affected than girls. If not treated in time, some children may be disrupted in their future careers and everyday life. The current treatment of ADHD mainly relies on drug and psychological treatment, with the combined treatment being more effective. However, treatment medications used usually have toxic side effects. Thus, drug treatment should not be relied on chronically.

The treatment of ADHD in children is multi-faceted; there is little to no drug treatment in European countries and the United Kingdom, whereas early detection and intervention are emphasized. They trained children to strengthen their concentration through games to overcome these impulsive habits. They have shown promising results, especially in patients with motor skills impediments.

The difference between martial arts health and other sports fitness

(Chinese children practice horse stance)

For example, consider two children with ADHD, David and Amanda. David enjoys team sports like Baseball, while Amanda prefers martial arts training. Both activities involve physical exercise, social interaction, and a structured environment, but the nature of these activities differs in several ways.

Difference Between Baseball and Martial Arts Fitness.

David must work with his teammates in Baseball to achieve a common goal. While this can help improve his social skills and cooperation, it can also be challenging for him to stay focused and attentive during the game. There are many distractions in the field, and David may need help to filter out irrelevant information and focus on the task at hand.

In contrast, Amanda's martial arts training involves individual practice and self-discipline. She must concentrate on mastering specific techniques and advancing through levels of achievement. The structured nature of the movement can help her develop self-control and focus, which are essential skills for managing ADHD symptoms.

Difference Between Tennis and Martial Arts Fitness.

First and foremost, martial arts training provides a structured environment emphasizing discipline, focus, and self-control. Children with ADHD often struggle with impulsivity and hyperactivity, and martial arts training can help them learn to regulate their behavior and manage their impulses. By following the rules and routines of martial arts training, children with ADHD can develop a greater sense of self-discipline and control, which can help them in all areas of their lives.

In contrast, tennis is a fast-paced and competitive sport that can be overwhelming for some children with ADHD. Constantly reacting to the ball and adjusting movements on the fly can be challenging for children who struggle with attention and focus. The competitive nature of tennis can be stressful for some children, exacerbating anxiety and impulsive symptoms. Additionally, Practicing tennis requires a vast field and is affected by the weather.

(Coach Xueyuan assists students in exercises for lower back strength and flexibility)

Martial arts do not require a large venue and can be practiced in martial arts schools, parks, or at home, and are not affected by the weather. Another advantage of martial arts training over tennis is its wide range of physical and mental benefits; it involves various movements and techniques that can help improve physical coordination, strength, and flexibility. Additionally, the mental focus required for martial arts training can help children with ADHD develop greater concentration and attention to detail.

Furthermore, martial arts training can help children with ADHD develop greater self-esteem and confidence. As they learn new skills and techniques, they gain a sense of mastery over their bodies and minds. While tennis can be a fun and engaging sport for many children, martial arts training is a more practical option for helping children with ADHD by providing a structured and disciplined environment, promoting physical and mental health, and fostering greater self-esteem and confidence.

Martial Arts Training and ADHD

The left and right sides of human brains have different functions, and all physical actions of the body are characteristics of these functions. Most sensory nerves in the human body are neatly intersected before entering the brain, meaning the left brain innervates the right half of the body, and the right brain innervates the left half. Children's martial arts practice many poses from the Chang Quan routine. For example, palm, fist, and hook hand as the primary hand types; bow stance, horse stance, crouching stance, empty stance, and rest stance as the basic stances; front kick, spring kick, single tap kick, knee-lifting balance, and Yan-style balance emphasize balance control to develop the child's right side of the brain. The human body must utilize vision, hearing, balance, proprioception, and other senses. Various sensory information is constantly fed into different cerebral cortex parts, stimulating the brain cells. At the same time, it improves the body's circulation and the brain's oxygen supply.

Wushu has positive feedback on various organ systems. Internally, Wushu exercises can regulate the state of mind and the balance of the inner self. Externally, it can benefit joints, strengthen ligaments, and improve the physique. Wushu combines the characteristics of sports games -therapy and intuition, and every movement of Wushu requires a high degree of unity of body and mind. The coordination of hands, eyes, and feet can transform children's lack of attention while granting a positive and pleasant experience. This is of great significance for cultivating children's learning motivation. In addition, martial arts movements are numerous and relatively complex, and children's brains must practice and familiarize themselves with the actions with compulsory concentration and memory while exercising their limbs; This extensively trains the symptoms of restlessness, distraction, and short attention span in ADHD patients.

Martial arts movement requires high concentration and brain and body control coordination. This further develops physical coordination, concentration, and a sense of purpose. Martial arts, such as Wushu, have the characteristics of "unity between inner and outer body, physically and psychologically." Traditional Wushu focuses on the essence, qi, and spirit, and Wushu exercises positively affect the training of sensory nerve functions. From the perspective of qi exercises, every move of Wushu is completed with the conscious mind, thus making. It is also an excellent exercise for the brain. They strengthen the training of touch, balance, and hand-eye coordination, so a great deal of sensory information can be inputted into the brain to promote its comprehensive analysis and improve its coordination with the body. These exercises can enhance the problems of distraction, impulsivity, and emotional control problems in children with ADHD.

Children's martial arts trainin
g emphasizes limb movements, improving balance and coordination. Some movement exercises require children to concentrate their minds and focus their eyes to control their attention. For example, the repeated movements of bow stance, horse stance, squat stance, empty stance, and rest stance are more complicated than ball games or swimming movements. You must be very focused when doing these movements, and the brain controls the muscles to cause a certain amount of pressure on the practitioner, and the muscle fatigue will respond faster. Managing and maintaining the movement, keeping the movement under tension during the process, helps to improve the inattention of ADHD patients physically and psychologically.

Targeted martial arts training more than three times a week for more than six months can significantly improve the attention of children with ADHD. Most people with ADHD are doing their best and suffer from social impairments. Martial arts training includes punching, smashing, hacking, and shouting to help children vent their excess energy and physical strength. For example, martial arts training such as punching and shouting can release patients emotionally.

Yin-Yang Balance and ADHD in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine considers ADHD a symptom of yin deficiency and yang hyperactivity. Excess yang causes extra movement and restless emotions. A balance of yin and yang is necessary to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, treating ADHD requires a balance of yang, yin focusing on subduing yang and supporting yin.

The horse stance, bow stance, and squat stance in martial arts routines lower the body's center of gravity and restrain the liver-yang energy. Martial arts movements interact, restrict, and transform each other between yin and yang to achieve physiological balance. The yin and yang elements of martial arts include activities in various directions, such as thinking, spirituality, moral character, speed, strength, balance, rigidity, softness, fast and slow. Each movement has the meaning of attack and defense.

In competitive and traditional martial arts routines, it is necessary to maintain a confident and entire mental state. The eyes need to be sharp; the reaction needs to be fast; the movements need to be rhythmic, the inner needs to be calm, and the outer actions need strength and agility. When the power reaches the limbs, it can reduce the Yang Qi; when the movement is slow and steady, it can nourish body fluid and compensate for the lack of yin deficiency in ADHD patients; there are many static movements in martial arts training, and practicing such activities can improve their self-control. These movement exercises require more mental and nervous system control than other sports.

Martial arts movements produce regular movements under nervous system control, so they often improve the patient's overall reaction time and fitness, which can help improve the performance of ADHD patients: with difficulty concentrating, irritability, and impulsiveness.

Compared with other types of sports training, ADHD patients will have an excellent effect for more than one year, and there will be significant changes for more than three years, and some are even the same as healthy children of the same age. During this period, the most critical parents and teachers must have great patience and persistence, which builds their self-confidence and encouragement, and they must not give up.

To sum up, since the effect of drug treatment is not immediate, it cannot be taken for a long time and is harmful to health; the long-term practice of martial arts is healthier and more effective than drug treatment.

In conclusion, the results of this systematic review suggest that practicing martial arts can be an effective intervention for children with ADHD. The positive effects on hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are promising, and the structured training program may help children improve their focus, self-control, and discipline. Martial arts may be a helpful alternative or complementary intervention to traditional treatments for ADHD.

Edited by Xueyuan Yangchen

June 22, 2023