For many autistic individuals and their caregivers, physical fitness is an afterthought. When just getting through the day is a struggle, it can be hard to find the motivation to exercise, and many autistic caregivers worry about the possibility of falls or injury during exercise. But anyone, no matter what his or her physical or mental condition, can benefit from exercise. Even individuals with mesothelioma can improve their health and quality of life with some gentle exercise. And the same is true of those with autism.
It’s true that it can be difficult for someone with autism to exercise. Lack of motivation and energy, difficulty in focusing, exposure to unpleasant stimuli, and limited motor skills can all present obstacles to an exercise program. This means, unfortunately, that autistic people are at a higher risk of being unfit and overweight than the general population. But the rewards of exercise are worth trying to motivate past these obstacles.
For autistic people, exercise can have benefits that go beyond just fitness. A good workout can provide a sense of focus, confidence, and mental well being that can be immensely beneficial in helping engage with the world. A 1994 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that vigorous exercise might help reduce the intensity and frequency of typical autistic behaviors; such as rocking, flapping, or aggressive physical behavior. Exercise gives the autistic person an outlet for physical energy and seems to satisfy a need for stimulation that might otherwise be diverted into those negative behaviors. The result is a calmer, more controlled, and more focused person.
An exercise program for an autistic individual need not be complicated — the simpler, the better. Just half an hour a day of running or walking, outside or on a treadmill, is all that’s needed to produce results. Swimming can also be a great exercise, and relaxing for those who are oversensitive to physical stimuli. Patience and consistency are the keys; once the individual accepts exercise as part of the daily routine, it’ll be easier to get him or her to do it.
Being fit doesn’t just raise your life expectancy; it improves the quality of your life, no matter what your physical or mental condition. Being physically active is part of a healthy, normal life — a goal that all autistic people and their caregivers strive for.
About the Author
Melanie Bowen is an awareness advocate for natural health and holistic therapies for cancer patients. You will often find her highlighting the great benefits of different nutritional, emotional, and physical treatments on those with illness in her efforts to increase attentiveness and responsiveness on like topics on The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.
Photo Credit: Encyclopedia of Children’s Health. Exercise – Mother and daughter practicing yoga. November 1, 2011.