Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also known as attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a chronic condition. Symptoms include difficulty with sustained attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. While ADHD often begins in childhood—and is often diagnosed during schooling— it can persist into adulthood and for the remainder of someone’s life.
More than 16 million (9.4 percent) children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ADHD. A cross-national study of 11,422 adults in the United States and Europe reported that the prevalence of adult ADHD was approximately 3.4 percent. Many scientists believe that this number, and other worldwide statistics, maybe too low. That’s because many of the diagnostic tests for ADHD were developed for children and young adults, and also because adults seeking consultation often will have other psychiatric conditions that mask the ADHD symptoms. Rates have been climbing significantly as more information is discovered, including demographics that doctors previously thought were less susceptible to ADHD, such as adults and women and girls.
While medication, like Adderall or Vyvanse, is commonly prescribed for people with ADHD, there are some who opt not to take pills, and more still who prefer not to take them on a daily basis. So a common question that has puzzled researchers, and those with ADHD, is “Is there a way to combat ADHD without medication or a way to mitigate the symptoms?”
Some believe that active sitting could be one solution. Active sitting, also known as dynamic sitting, is seating that naturally encourages us to stay in motion, rather than passively relaxing into a slouch or attempting to rigidly hold a “correct” pose. While almost everyone working at a desk for long periods stands to benefit from active sitting techniques, it holds unique promise for people with ADHD.
Let’s explore how active sitting can help ADHD patients.
ADHD and Hyperactivity
Many folks believe that they understand exactly what ADD or ADHD is, primarily because of the seemingly self-explanatory name of the condition. There are also some who will breezily joke or say they have ADHD because they have a day or two where it’s a bit more difficult to concentrate—many will also believe their own statement. But those with the condition will know that it is a daily struggle and that in many cases, the stereotypical perception of what ADHD is is often misguided or only really scratches the surface. Few people without ADHD fail to realize that in some cases the condition manifests itself physically just as much as it does mentally.
Although there are many symptoms and presentations of ADHD, hyperactivity is one of the most common. It involves squirming, fidgeting, tapping, talking, and a constant need for movement. As it can be hard to regulate these habits, students with ADHD often struggle to sit still in class for extended periods. For adults with ADHD, this means sitting at a desk for eight hours a day or repetitive tasks can be difficult to accomplish or significantly draining.
However, rather than indicating a lack of focus, fidgeting actually helps ADHD students to concentrate on the tasks at hand. That’s why alternative seating will be so important in helping ADHD patients from the classroom right the way through to the office.
What Is Active Sitting?
Alternative seating and active sitting are two branches of the same concept; alternative seating being a product that is meant to promote the action of active sitting. Active sitting encourages movement while seated, whether that’s by engaging the core muscles or creating dynamic motion in the legs to keep muscle groups active during extended periods of work.
More simply put, we all know people or are the person, that when sitting and concentrating bounce their leg or twist their body rhythmically in their chair or even gnaw at their pen caps. This is not necessarily an indication that someone has ADD or ADHD, but what it does often confirm is that they—or you— are naturally predisposed toward active sitting. It is the use of bodily stimulation to help with learning or concentration, it can also help dispel energy that gives a sensory break.
Active sitting also has health benefits, as normal sitting for too long has many health risks. According to a study published by the Washington Post, adults who sit for an average of eight hours a day are at higher risk of numerous health defects including impaired brain function, colon cancer, disk damage in your back, heart disease, muscle degeneration, and poor circulation. Unfortunately, many of our careers and scholastic pursuits are reliant on sitting for eight-plus hours, which really is a massive reason why active sitting is so crucial.
While anyone with a sedentary lifestyle can benefit from active sitting, it directly helps to address the hyperactivity symptoms that many ADHD patients experience. By combining ergonomic seating that encourages movement, ADHD students can maintain concentration for longer periods and improve the overall management of the conditions. A 2015 study, conducted by the University of Central Florida, found that the majority of the test subjects—boys ages eight to twelve—that had ADHD performed significantly better on cognitive memory exams when they had the opportunity to engage in active sitting while learning. This was not the case with the control group—boys aged eight to twelve with no ADHD diagnosis. These findings really stand in contrast with how many previously thought ADHD should be handled, especially in a classroom. One of the leading scientists on the UCF study put it like this, “Typical interventions target reducing hyperactivity. It’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing for a majority of children with ADHD. The message isn’t ‘Let them run around the room,’ but you need to be able to facilitate their movement so they can maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities.” Active sitting finds the happy medium between “Let them run around the room” and “Sit down, sit still, and concentrate”, as neither of those is going to effectively facilitate learning in children with ADHD.
Tools to support active sitting
There are a number of so-called “brain hacks” or “life hacks” that can naturally help with the effects of ADHD. Some people use auditory or olfactory cues when learning, some create strict study schedules, while others prefer strategic breaks and naps. People with ADHD/ADD should continue to do what works for them, but that thing that works, unfortunately, doesn’t always continue to do so. Active sitting and using alternative sitting could just be an easy, new ADHD hack that helps a lot of people.
Because of its proven success as a method for combating ADHD, there have been a number of companies that have begun manufacturing alternative seating products. Sitting on an exercise ball may be enough to do the trick but there are other more specialized products as well. These include wiggle stools and ergonomic products, like an under the chair desk pedal which allows you to keep your blood pumping and to engage in active sitting.
People conquer their ADHD every day, in a number of different ways and stratagems. While no single method may work perfectly for everyone, active sitting and repetitive movements have been proven to combat the effects of ADHD/ADD. Give it a try.