24 November 2019

5 lifestyle changes to make ADHD medication work better

While treating ADHD with medication can be successful, there are some lifestyle changes that may also help.

Research has shown that even though there are people who are hesitant to take the medication route, medicinal treatment for ADHD can be effective.

Medication can help reduce symptoms of ADHD such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and a lack of attention and concentration in children and adults. However, it’s important to realise that medication comes with side-effects and that it may be a case of trial and error to find the right dose and combination.

Ritalin, the trade name of the stimulant methylphenidate is the most commonly described medication for ADHD. Different doses and formulations can be created for every individual case and are prescribed after a thorough evaluation by a psychiatrist.

But there is no “magic pill” for ADHD, and experts suggest a combined approach – behavioural therapy, lifestyle changes and medication used together to help alleviate symptoms. There might be side-effects such as a change in appetite and sleep patterns.

Here are some lifestyle changes that could increase the effectiveness of medication:

1. Practise patience and be informed

Know that medication alters the chemical reactions in the brain, and that the effects will be different in every case. When, after a few months, the medication appears not to be working, talk to your psychiatrist or doctor.

2. Exercise regularly

According to research, exercise as been proven to help manage ADHD. Not only will it help someone with ADHD establish a healthy routine, but it may also increase dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain, which may aid focus and concentration.

3. Get enough sleep

Regular sleep and quality rest may help improve ADHD symptoms. If your child has ADHD, establish a set bedtime routine and allow them to wind down before they go to bed.

4. Invest in therapy

Along with medication, behavioural therapy can be helpful. A registered therapist specialising in ADHD may help you and your child learn new skills to cope with symptoms and change habits that cause problems. Both you and your child may also benefit from stress management techniques or techniques to help control anger and impulsive behaviour.

5. Eat a healthy diet

According to Harvard Medical School, diet isn’t the driving force behind aggravated ADHD symptoms, and traditional research hasn't found that radical diets have any benefits. However, healthy diet choices may be helpful in the long run, as healthy foods may aid basic cell function, heart health and immunity. There is limited data on the link between ADHD and diet, but foods that are good for the brain and body will probably be good for ADHD as well.

Image credit: iStock


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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