Hacking Adult ADHD, Part 1: Strengthen Your Body



It’s about time squirrels are getting the positive attention they deserve. When I was a kid squirrels where synonymous with “target practice.” At 10-years old my friend shot one right in the baby making organ. What a way to die. You would’ve thought by my friend’s reaction that he just threw the winning pitch in the Little League World Series. He didn’t. He hit the subjective bullseye of a squirrel. Ah, the depth of childhood. My guilty conscience is eased by the recent glorifying of squirrels in Hollywood and the ADHD world. Maybe it’s a personal penance of sorts. A way of showing to the world, finally, that squirrels are more than an object to be dropped by a 22-caliber gun. They are being noticed for having strong points too!

Classic ADHD distraction moment from the movie UP


In an effort to continue my lifelong penance to my furry friends, I offer to you a holistic paradigm for hacking ADHD. The SQUIRREL model is borne out of personal experiences as an ADHD’er, parent of an ADHD and autistic child and clinical therapist and coach to fellow ADHD’ers. These bright, flexible and creative souls color our lives. This is the first in a series of eight posts.


Did you know that there are over 40 species of these light, swift and athletic tree-hoppers? Like squirrels ADHD’ers come in all different shapes, personalities and characteristics. There are some habits, though, that benefit the whole lot of us, starting with caring for our physical bodies. Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy in a Harvard Business Review Article, Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time, provide uber-practical tips to make balancing brain chemicals, increasing energy and inducing calm more than just a great idea.

“We’re not meant to run at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. Science tells us we’re at our best when we move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy — a reality that [we] must embrace to fuel sustainable engagement and high performance.”
— Tony Schwartz
Hacking ADHD requires taking one step at a time


Engage in CARDIO 3x per week for at least 20 minutes each workout

This can be a swift walk up-and-down the stairs at work, a jog on the treadmill or, my favorite, a pick-up game of basketball.

Engage in STRENGTH TRAINING 1x per week for at least 20 minutes

Many people like to work the major muscle groups with simple push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and the like. Others may want to use free weights at a gym. Either way, just taking the step to get into the rhythm of resistance training will pay off in dividends.

SLEEP 8 hours per night

This one is huge. ADHD’ers are notorious for pushing their sleep cycles to the absolute minimum. One of the many downsides to this is a worsening of ADHD symptoms, such as irritability, distractability and limited ability to follow-through on routine responsibilities. If you are super-analytical and need to be convinced of the importance of sleep, read this article. Honestly, sleep is often the greatest impetus to getting our physical bodies healthy. After 35 years of terrible sleep, I finally got a sleep study and discovered that I have sleep apnea. If you are always tired upon waking after being “asleep” for 7–8 hours, this may be something you want to chat with your doctor about. If you are just tired because you go to bed too late, start the process of going to bed earlier.

SMALL MEALS or snacks every 3 hours

A simple plan that works wonders

With our ADHD tendency to hyper-focus, and with many of us on medications that decrease appetite, it often becomes a habit to eat 1–2 binge meals per day. This spiking and falling of sugar and insulin creates energy levels that are inconsistent — and can often lead to Type II Diabetes. When we eat nutritious food in small quantities at close intervals our energy is much more even throughout the day. This increases consistency with focus, awareness of the present and follow-through. Who doesn’t want that?

TAKE A BREAK every 90–120 minutes

Our brains are made to concentrate intensely for this time frame. If we try to push through 120 minutes our brains lag in creativity, energy and focus. It’s great to focus on one specific project at a time (monotasking) and then take a 5–10 minute break before you engage in another singular task. This can include listening to a couple of songs, writing in a journal, taking a walk around the office, stretching, closing your eyes to think of something positive or anything else that might provide a diversion. This resets the brain and gets your ready to be full engaged with the next task at hand.


We can have it all, just not all at once. The hard work of hacking ADHD requires us to consistently take steps, in spite of predictable setbacks, toward caring for our physical bodies. Get that heart-pumping. Challenge those muscles. Sleep the night away. Eat every 3 hours. Take mindless breaks between mind-taxing tasks. This leap starts with steps. What step will you take today?