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Image via Flickr Jason Parrish
In elementary school and middle school, I hated PE. I always dreaded it and would beg my parents to find a way to get me out of it. It just wasn't a comfortable environment for me. I much preferred quiet and calm activities, such as reading or watching TV. Physical activity and sports just didn't interest me.
When I got to high school, PE was no longer a daily requirement, which I thought was great. It didn't take long for me to slip into a fairly sedentary lifestyle. The only 'exercise' I got was from walking from class to class each day.
But a doctor's checkup changed all that. I found out from my doctor that was considered "overweight." She urged me and my parents to find a way for me to get more physical activity. So, my mom and I started walking every day after school and she started taking me swimming on the weekends. The results have been amazing. Not only has my physical health improved, it has also helped me better manage my Asperger's.
Here are some of the benefits I've seen from getting regular exercise.
Reduces repetitive motions. Often, people with Asperger's Syndrome get comfort from making repetitive motions, such as hand flapping or drumming. As this article from LiveStrong.com on Asperger's Syndrome and exercise notes, getting regular physical activity can help "rid the muscles of pent-up energy." I've definitely seen an improvement in my own life. For me, wringing my hands or clasping them together was a go-to motion for me, especially when I was feeling anxious. But since I began working physical activity into my daily life, I've noticed that I feel the need to clasp my hands less often.
Helps maintain a healthy weight. As I mentioned before, making time for physical activity hasn't always been a priority for me. And as a result, I put on an unhealthy amount of weight. Unfortunately, as this resource on the benefits of aquatic therapy for children with ASD notes, nearly 50 percent of children on the autism spectrum are overweight or at risk of becoming so. Of course, exercising regularly is a key component of living a healthy lifestyle. It has certainly helped me get into a healthy weight range.
Improves sleep. Sleep disruption is also common among children and teens with Asperger's and autism. In its article on sleep problems and Asperger's Syndrome, the Asperger/Autism Network explains that exercising at the right time can contribute to better sleep. However, it warns that exercising 2-4 hours before bed might leave you over-stimulated. So, in order to get the sleep benefits of exercise, be sure to schedule your workout for earlier in the day.
Makes socializing easier. Children and teens with Asperger's sometimes have trouble connecting with and relating to others. HealthCentral.com notes that playing a sport provides a child with AS or ASD an opportunity to socialize with their peers in a setting that doesn't require them to be as "social." For example, I love to swim, and doing so, gives me a chance to be around kids my age, but without me feeling like I have to constantly try to follow their conversations or try to come up with things to talk about on my own. It's a fun time for me to be around my peers and to make friends while also getting much-needed exercise.
Getting regular physical exercise is important for everyone. It has positive effects on long-term physical and mental health. But I want other teens with AS to know that it pays off in the short term, too. Since I began working out regularly, my overall wellbeing has improved substantially.
About the Author:
Kathleen Carter is a teen who has been living with Asperger's Syndrome for as long as she can remember. She strives to educate her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began focusing her efforts on writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.