The Importance of Exercise for Children and Adults with Special Needs

EVERYONE can benefit from the release of excess energy, burning unwanted calories and the pure enjoyment of physical activities.  This also includes children and adults with special needs.  People with physical or emotional difficulties are not always encouraged to exercise because the fear of injuries or frustration completing the activity.  However, fitness is critical for EVERYONE’s health.

Being physically active can impact a people with special needs’ development skills, helping implant a sense of self-confidence by improving social skills and leadership development. It can also help weight management by keeping the person healthy and strong in the short and long-term.

Kids and adults with physical disabilities face challenges. Some people have limited mobility and/or tire more easily than their peers. For some people with sensory issues, communication challenges or difficulties with social skills, team sports are simply not fun. Kids and adults with side effects from medication, those who are always overtired from lack of quality sleep and people who are overweight and not physically fit will not enjoy many organized activity programs. What is the solution?

Have you heard of ZamDance?  ZamDance is a FUN, dance fitness program especially created for children and adults (ages 8 – adult) with developmental and physical differences.  The program introduces a structured environment while allowing participants with special needs to move at their own pace.  This class also keeps dancers happily engaged while learning different dance steps such as MERENGUE, JAZZ, and HIP-HOP and making new friends with their peers!

The movement of their bodies to the rhythmic music has many health benefits that transcend aerobic activity and the simple of burning of calories though.  This program allows participants with special needs to express themselves through dance in a way that builds confidence, creates empowerment and unites a community that accepts them as they are – while learning the importance of sustained physical activity.

Fitness for Health is proud to partner with Jackie Zamora to offer ZamDance from 6pm – 7pm on Friday nights now through March 3 in the 1st floor gym of Fitness for Health located at 11140 Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD.  Click here to register for ZamDance – our weekly, glow-in-the-dark, dance party for the special needs community.

As the founder of Fitness for Health (a therapeutic fitness facility located in Rockville, MD, that helps the special needs community obtain the physical, emotional and social skills to reach their full potential) and a certified Athletic Trainer for more than 25 years, I believe that many people with special needs believe that exercise has to be boring and unenjoyable due to potential time spent completing traditional occupational and/or physical therapies that do not incorporate exergaming or cutting-edge technology.  People assume exercising has to be sit-ups, running on a treadmill or playing a fast-paced, team sport.  Fitness needs to be fun and can be ANY physical activity that gets you moving!

Do you or a loved one want to burn calories while expressing your creative side and making new friends with similar interests?  Try our weekly, glow-in-the-dark ZamDance class!

About Fitness for Health:

Fitness for Health has been recognized as Washington Family Magazine’s 2016 Best Special Needs Program and Best Special Needs Camp in the DC Area and a finalist for About.com’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Special Needs Resource in the D.C. Region.  At Fitness for Health, you get a complete team—including fitness specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists—working together to create a full-service plan of care that’s expertly tailored to you or your child’s developmental, skill and comfort levels while using cutting-edge, exergaming technology. As a parent, you’re involved every step of the way.

Areas of improvement may include:

  • Functional movement / play skills
  • Gross motor function and coordination
  • Crossing the midline
  • Mental processing
  • Motor planning and motor sequencing
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Locomotor skills
  • Visual motor/perceptual motor skills
  • Proprioception and balance
  • Age-appropriate social skills

Most of Fitness for Health’s exergaming equipment tracks results as they happen, so your child can gain the confidence that comes from seeing his or her performance improve over time. Learn more about our Success Builds Success approach.

Attend our Open House for Prospective Families from 5pm – 6pm on Sunday, February 5, and learn how our therapeutic exerciseoccupational therapy services, and physical therapy services can help your family members reach their full potential.

When Exercising, Simpler Can Be Better

If you’re not an athlete or serious exerciser — and you just want to work out for your health or to fit in your clothes better — beginning a fitness routine can be intimidating and overwhelming.

Yet some of the best physical activities for your body don’t require rigorous athletic training or require you to be train to run a marathon. A walking “workout” can do wonders for your health. It’ll help weight management, improve your balance and range of motion, increase bone and joint health, help prevent cancer and even ward off memory loss.

No matter your fitness level, walking is the simplest, cheapest and most convenient way to exercise. But if your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight “fast,” an easy stroll isn’t going to cut it.  A 150-pound person burns less than 100 calories on a leisurely half-hour walk.  But, take heart.  Those burned calories add up.  Over a year, a daily, 30-minute walk could mean a 10-pound weight loss!

According to a recent report on NBC Nightly News, walking just 20 minutes a day can help save your life. “Twice as many deaths were tied to lack of exercise than to obesity” and “A 20-minute daily walk reduces a person’s risk of early death by 30%.”

As the founder of Fitness for Health and a certified Athletic Trainer for more than 25 years, I believe that people honestly don’t think of walking as exercise.  They assume exercising has to be sit-ups, running on a treadmill or playing a fast-paced sport.

As I explain to the participants in Fitness for Health’s therapeutic exercise, occupational therapy and physical therapy programs, you can obtain exercise by any sustained movement that raises your heartbeat and that you’ll continue to do because you enjoy it.  The key to an exercise routine is remembering that fitness is fun!

There’s a misconception that walking is boring. Why not make it more exciting by walking with a buddy?  Activities – especially athletic training – are always more fun with a friend.  Research confirms that a support system helps maintain long-term, weight management.  So, find a fun, walking partner.  According to 30 Tips When You’re Walking for Weight Loss by Eat This Not That!, “It’s no joke: genuine laughter may cause a 10–20 percent increase in basal energy expenditure and resting heart-rate, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. That means a 10-15 minute giggle fest could burn up 40 to 170 calories.”

Regular exercise – especially walking – is beneficial for people of all ages.  Exercise helps to improve muscle and joint flexibility and keeps your heart healthy while improving bone and joint health.  It also can improve sleep and helps weight management.

Fitness for Health creates unique exercise programs based on a person’s individual fitness goals.  Want to lose weight or maintain weight management as an adult or combat childhood obesity?  Interested in toning your body?  Aspiring to improve your athletic edge?  No problem!  Whether you are a child or a senior citizen, Fitness for Health can you help you and your loved ones reach your full potential.

Repeated Dieting Leads to Weight GAIN

New research by the universities of Exeter and Bristol suggests that repeated dieting may lead to weight gain because the brain interprets the diets as short famines and urges the dieter to store more fat for future shortages.

Have you ever wondered why people who try low-calorie diets often overeat when not dieting and, therefore, aren’t able to obtain weight management? This could be the answer.

The study, published in the journal, Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, is based on observations of animals such as birds and may explain how people who don’t diet learn that food supplies are reliable and don’t need to store so much fat.

Animals respond to the risk of food shortage by gaining weight, which is why garden birds are fatter in the winter when seeds and insects are hard to find.

The study shows, “If food supply is often restricted (as it is when dieting) an optimal animal — the one with the best chance of passing on its genes — should gain excess weight between food shortages.”

Dr. Andrew Higginson, Senior Lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter, explains, “Surprisingly, our model predicts that the average weight gain for dieters will actually be greater than those who never diet.  This happens because non-dieters learn that the food supply is reliable so there is less need for the insurance of fat stores.”

With the new year comes New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, do athletic training more often and set updated wellness goals. Unfortunately, the new year is also a time of fad diets to lose weight or find a “miracle diet” to improve weight management.

Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term quick fixes that actually set many dieters up for weight-loss failure. If a diet or product sounds too good to be true, it is.

Unfortunately, there are no “magic” foods or pills that burn fat. No super foods or fitness products that will speed your metabolism to the point where “fat melts away” while you watch TV or sleep.  And, some ingredients in supplements and herbal products can actually be fatal.

Life is already complicated enough. Limiting food choices or following rigid meal plans can be an overwhelming, distasteful task. With any new diet, always ask yourself: “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, don’t do it.

So, how can people keep the weight off and improve weight management?  It’s simple – exercise. 

Regular physical activity is essential for good health and healthy weight management. The key to success is to find physical activities that you enjoy and then to aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity or athletic training every day.  Make it a family endeavor!  Exercise as a family.  Play a quick game of basketball after lunch on a weekend, plan a pajama Zumba party in the living room or take the pets for a walk.  You don’t have to use a Stair Master to get a great workout.  You just need to use your imagination.

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, build muscle and lose fat, the best path is a lifelong combination of eating smarter and getting moving.

Doesn’t that sound better than a lifelong diet?  And, it’ll benefit your long-term health and your kids’ health by showing them that childhood obesity can be avoided while having a little family fun. It’s a win-win!

Learn more about how Fitness for Health can help you create a customized fitness program or athletic training that is fun for the whole family (kids too) while helping to improve weight management and increase bone and joint health in the new year.  Check out our weight management program for pre-teens and teens!

Made Your New Year’s Resolutions Yet?

Are you thinking about reinventing yourself in 2017? Or, using the new year as a long overdue excuse to get rid of bad nutritional habits or improve your athletic training to maintain weight management? You’re not alone.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, in 2015, 45% of people made New Year’s resolutions.  Can you guess which resolution was most popular? If you guessed losing weight or maintaining weight management, you are correct!  (“Enjoying life to the fullest” came in #4 and “staying fit and healthy” came in #5.)

Don’t set yourself up for failure in 2017 by vowing to make huge changes that will be hard to keep. Instead, follow a few suggestions for successfully making a new year’s resolution you can stick to – for the long haul.

  • Focus on one aspect. If you want to change your life or your lifestyle, don’t try to change everything at once. It won’t work. Instead pick one area of your life to change to begin. Make it something concrete so you know exactly what change you’re planning to make. If you’re successful with the first change, you can go ahead and make another change after a month or so. By making small changes one after the other, you still have the chance to be a whole new you at the end of 2017 and it’s a much more realistic way of doing it.
  • Pick a start date. You don’t have to make these changes on New Year’s Day.  Pick a day when you know you’ll be well-rested, enthusiastic and surrounded by positive people who can help you stay on track.
  • Put your heart into it. Go for it 100% beginning on your chosen start day.  Make a commitment and write it down on a card. You just need one short phrase you can carry in your wallet, keep in your gym bag or display by your bed and/or on your bathroom mirror. For example, your mantra could be “I will exercise to improve my bone and joint health” or “I will go to the gym for athletic training twice a week.”  Choose a place that you view the card often in order to give yourself positive reinforcement.
  • Remember that nobody is perfect. Don’t become discouraged if you don’t immediately achieve your New Year’s resolutions or if you have a setback in your quest for weight management. Losing weight is a journey; not a sprint. Weight loss won’t be permanently achieved overnight. (Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat a hot fudge sundae before bed and, by morning, lose 5 pounds?) The most important aspect of a resolution is that you keep trying.

Whatever your plans and goals are for 2017, I wish you luck!  But, remember, it’s your life and you make your own luck.  Decide what you want to accomplish in 2017, plan how to get it and go for it. I’ll definitely be cheering you on!

Fitness for Health creates unique exercise programs based on a person’s individual fitness goals.  Want to lose weight or maintain weight management for adults or kids in 2017?  Interested in toning your body?  Aspiring to improve your athletic edge?  No problem!  Whether you are a young child or a senior citizen, Fitness for Health can you help you and your loved ones reach your full potential – and your New Year’s resolutions – this year. Visit www.FitnessForHealth.org to learn more.

The Importance Family

Now that the Holidays are over and the new year is almost upon us, everywhere you go, you see happy families spending time together.  So, in honor of the Holidays and its celebration of family togetherness, the focus of my blog today is the importance of family.

Family is the most important aspect of society.  Family is not only the basic societal building block, it also provides invaluable life skills and forms the people we will become as adults.  It teaches us child-raising, patience, basic communication skills and how to love – while being the all-around fun and friendship unit.

In our families, we love, serve, teach and learn from each other. We share our joys and our sorrows. Family ties may bring us difficult challenges, but family also gives us strength and some of our greatest happiness.

While we cannot choose the conditions of our birth, we can choose each day to make our families stronger and happier by spending quality time together having fun and playing.

Families need to work – and play – together to enhance and build stronger relationships.  With an integrated, team-building approach, parents, grandparents and children can have fun playing games that also increase self-esteem – and help families bond.

So, take this holiday and school break as an opportunity to play as a family.  Set aside one night to play Scrabble, go ice skating or take a walk around the neighborhood to view the holiday lights.  If you feel more adventurous, create your own family games – while also creating new family traditions and memories.  Your only limit is your imagination.

I wish you and your family a happy holiday week and a healthy New Year!

For more ideas about family games and “family playtime,” read my previous blogs here.  For additional information about Fitness for Health’s weight management, athletic training and occupational and physical therapy programs for children and adults – including our Open Gym on Friday nights for families, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.

5 Reasons to Exercise This Holiday Season

The Holidays are finally here!  And, that means people are beginning to create their New Year’s resolutions to improve their health and weight management, and renew their commitment to hit the gym.

Although it is true that sustained exercise helps you achieve a great body and improves bone and joint health, it also improves your overall wellness and keeps your mind sharp.

Here are five reasons that you need to work out this Holiday and in the new year:

  1. Extend your life.  Medical research has shown that by walking briskly for at least 150 minutes – not even 2 hours – each week (the minimum World Health Organization exercise recommendation), you may increase your life expectancy by 3 ½ – 4 ½ years!
  2. Ensure your heart remains healthy.  By exercising or athletic training for as little as 30 minutes a day, you can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 30% – 50% and your risk of having a stroke by 25%.
  3. Become happier.  When you exercise, you produce endorphins in your brain.  Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to elevate and stabilize your mood, decrease overall levels of tension, improve sleep and increase self-esteem.  Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.
  4. Improve your brain function.  Just one cardio workout pumps extra blood to your brain which delivers oxygen and other nutrients the brain needs to perform at peak efficiency. Cardio exercise also provides the brain with endorphins and brain-derived protein (BDNF) that enhance functions such as memory, problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities. And, it doesn’t matter the age when you begin to work out! Beginning a fitness for seniors program helps to maintain and improve cognitive abilities.
  5. Bring your sexy back.  We all know that exercise burns fat, but, if you want to get lean and fit, you’ll need to intensify your workouts to firm, thin and strengthen. Yes, exercise can help you lose your love handles, but it’s also the loss of excess fat deep inside the body that boosts your overall looks and your health.  There are two types of fat – subcutaneous (what you can pinch) and visceral. Visceral fat pads the abdominal organs like insulation and is far more difficult to lose.  It can also kill you.  Excess visceral fat fuels low-grade inflammation in the body and is tied to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer and dementia. It can also upset the balance of important hormones that affect your skin, hair and general appearance.

Remember, “use it or lose it!” If you don’t use your body to its fullest potential now, you risk losing your flexibility, muscle tone, heart strength and cognitive abilities later in life.

So, what are you waiting for?

Fitness for Health creates unique exercise programs based on a person’s individual fitness goals.  Want to lose weight or maintain weight management for adults or kids?  Interested in toning your body?  Aspiring to improve your athletic edge?  No problem!  Whether you are a young child or a senior citizen, Fitness for Health can you help you and your loved ones reach your full potential this new year.

“12 Days of Christmas” Holiday Workout

Happy Holidays!

It’s easy to let your workout routine slide during the holiday season. It’s more fun to spend time eating at the buffet and drinking egg nog with friends and family than it is to make time for athletic training.  But, fitness is a yearlong endeavor and New Year’s resolutions are right around the corner.

Have you heard of the “12 Days of Christmas” Workout?  Although challenging, it is a fun way to infuse holiday spirit into an exercise routine for adults – or at a lessened level for a fitness for kids’ activity.

Here’s how it works.  It’s a little different from the song.  For this workout, you’ll be going in reverse order from the song.  Normally, you’d start at the first day, the small number, and go to the last day, the big number.  For this workout, you’ll start with the 12th day and go down from there.

For example, you’ll start with 12 repetitions of the first exercise.  Then, you’ll go for 12 of the first exercise again, 11 of the second, etc.  Start over with 12 reps of the first exercise, 11 of the second, and 10 of the third.  Keep repeating just like that until you’ve done all 12 exercises.  When you’re done, you will have completed 650 total reps.

Here are my thoughts for a “12 Days of Christmas” Workout routine along with a link to a video explaining how to properly complete each exercise:

12 squats

11 butt kicks (1 minute)

10 oblique V-sit ups

9 Everest climbers

8 frog jumps

7 side lunges

6 chair dips (You will need a chair or ledge.)

5 laying down bicycles (5 intervals of 20 seconds)

4 Supermans

3 V-sit (30 seconds)

2 dive bomber push-ups

1 minute plank

Have a fun – and fit – holiday season!

Fitness for Health can help you build a healthier body by creating a customized, exercise regimen that addresses your – and your kids’ – unique concerns this holiday season.  Whether you want to maintain weight management, tone, build muscle, increase flexibility or improve your athletic training, we can help you reach your goals!  Learn how we can help your family lose weight and combat childhood obesity today!

Holiday Stress Busters for Parents of Children with Autism and Special Needs

One of the happiest – and most stressful – times of the year is right around the corner. Although the Holidays are known as the time of the year when families get together to catch up, dine and tell one another how much they care for each other, the Holidays also bring cramped parking at the malls, endless shopping to find the best deals on the hottest toys and trying to find the time to clean and decorate the house before out-of-town family arrives. Oh, did I forget to mention sleep?

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas can provide memories that last a lifetime, but, if your life is already stressful, the Holidays can become overwhelming.

In honor of the upcoming holiday season, I’d like to take this opportunity to give parents of children with autism and special needs a few ideas to beat seasonal stress.

  • The Holidays are a time of marvels and sensations. Connect to your sense of wonder. Does your child find peace in the tranquility of looking at holiday lights? Try the Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple where you can ride in your car or kids can walk quietly to admire the light displays if they need time for inner reflection or can run through the path if they need physical activity to regulate themselves. This family favorite can be as quiet or as loud as your child needs. Let’s face it. If your children are happy and having fun, you’ll be less stressed and can take time to enjoy the seasonal lights too. It’ll help your kids’ health – and yours.
  • Keep track of holiday schedules. Families’ day-to-day schedules are hectic, but adding holiday recitals, family dinners and school parties can be stressful for everyone. Keep a calendar displaying events for each family member. This will help children with special needs to mentally prepare for the outing and will also help you limit activities. If your calendar is becoming too much to handle for you and your child, don’t feel guilty about declining invitations. Instead of trying to pack three parties into one day, clear your schedule for a night and stay home to play a family game or watch a movie. Nothing can help you feel better about your family’s holiday season than to watch America’s favorite, dysfunctional family, the Griswalds, in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
  • Know that you’re not alone. Many families of autistic children find that speaking to parents of other special needs children gives them much needed support and a sounding wall for ideas. Check out these organizations that offer family services and support groups – Autism Speaks, The Autism Society of America, The National Autism Center and the National Autism Association. Additionally, visit these resources on Facebook to learn about community events, family meet-ups in your area or share your personal experiences – AutMont, Autism Discussion Page, Autism Sparks, Autism: Different, Not Less and Autism Awareness. If you live in the Washington, D.C., area, join this great parent group – Maryland Moms of Autistic Children.
  • Define success for your family. Every family doesn’t have to have a Martha Stewart holiday season with a perfectly trimmed tree, beautiful buffet centerpieces and songs happily sung by an open fire. Don’t place undue stress on yourself and your family by trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that you place upon yourself. As long as your family has fun and shares a few laughs, the Holidays will be a great success!

I want to wish you and your family a wonderful Holiday season. And, I hope you join me at this blog for lively discussions and ideas to bring fun and happiness to your families.

About Fitness for Health:

Recognized as Washington Family Magazine’s 2016 Best Special Needs Program and Best Special Needs Camp in the DC Area and a finalist for About.com’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Special Needs Resource in the D.C. Region, Fitness for Health, founded by Marc Sickel who also suffers from ADD, specializes in creating personalized, therapeutic programs for children with a broad range of special needs:

  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Gross motor delays
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Pervasive developmental disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • ADD/ADHD/LD
  • Developmental and physical disabilities
  • Confidence and self-esteem issues
  • Emotional disturbances and anxiety disorders

At Fitness for Health, you get a complete team—including pediatric fitness specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists—working together to create a full-service plan of care that’s expertly tailored to your child’s developmental, skill and comfort levels while providing fitness for kids using cutting-edge, exergaming technology. As a parent, you’re involved every step of the way.  Learn more about our therapeutic exerciseoccupational therapy services, and physical therapy services today.

Heart-Healthy Holiday Eating Ideas

Christmas and Hanukkah are less than a month away and it’s time to start thinking about our holiday eating habits.

The holiday temptation of cookies, cake, pie and sweets begins at Thanksgiving and doesn’t end until after the new year when many people vow to lose weight as part of their New Year’s Resolutions.

A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association gives us yet another reason to eat healthy and avoid adult and childhood obesity this Holiday season.

People with an irregular heart rhythm could see an improvement in symptoms if they lose weight in addition to managing their other heart risks, says the study.  Researchers found that people who steadily lost more than 30 pounds and kept their other health conditions in check saw greater improvements in atrial fibrillation symptoms than those who just managed their other health conditions without trying to lose weight.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a type of rhythm disorder affecting the heart’s upper chambers.  It can be caused by a number of issues – including heart attacks, infections and heart valve problems.  Adult and childhood obesity is a risk factor for AF, as are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Is it possible to eat “heart-healthy” at holiday dinner and eat well?  Yes!

  • Control your portion size. How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should.
  • Understand serving sizes. A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces, or pieces—and a healthy serving size may be a lot smaller than you’re used to. Remember this at the buffet – the recommended serving size for pasta is ½ cup, while a serving of meat, fish, or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces (57-85 grams).
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods at the holiday party.
  • Limit unhealthy fats. The best way to reduce trans fats in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats — butter, margarine and shortening — you consume. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming the fat off your holiday steak.
  • Change your holiday habits. The best way to avoid saturated fats is to change your lifestyle practices. Instead of chips, snack on fruit or vegetables as hors d’oeuvres.

As the Holidays approach, be realistic. Now is probably not the best time to start a diet.  Instead, try to maintain your current weight and make a promise to lose any extra pounds after the Holidays by visiting your personal trainer or taking group exercise classes such as Fitness for Health’s Adult Fitness class on Wednesdays at 8pm. Or, if you know a child aged 7-17 who needs fitness motivation, suggest our Healthy Heart Program where kids will have a blast breaking a sweat with our heart-pumping exergaming program using state-of-the-art equipment.

Plan time for exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevents weight gain.  A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. Try 10- or 15-minute brisk walks twice a day.

Most importantly, enjoy the Holidays with your family and friends and make healthy eating choices without denying yourself your favorite foods in the buffets!

To learn how Fitness for Health can help you make time for exercise this season, please visit www.FitnessForHealth.org or call 301-231-7138.

Make Fitness Fun for Kids with Special Needs

According to research, the best way to help young people with neurodevelopmental disorders (like autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) exercise more often is to make fitness fun.

“We found that a child having fun was a much greater indicator of how likely he or she was to continue exercising,” said Matthew Lustig, senior medical student at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

“Identifying an activity they are good at, from playing basketball to running to tennis, was another top reason for staying physically active, survey participants said. In fact, lack of skill was a much larger deterrent than bottom lines like financial and transportation limitations,” continued Lustig, who is first-author on a poster recently presented at the American Medical Association Research Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

Studies have shown that exercise reduces problem behaviors such as the need for repetition, disruptiveness, aggression and self-injury in people with autism and ADHD.  And, these benefits can last for several hours during and after exercise.

According to Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. in his paper, “Physical Exercise and Autism,” for the Autism Institute, “One of the most effective treatments for autistic people is exercise. Vigorous exercise means a 20-minute or longer aerobic workout, 3 to 4 days a week; mild exercise has little effect on behavior. Many autistic children gain weight if they have an inactive lifestyle, and weight gain brings another set of problems.”

Motivating children can be difficult.  Motivating a child with special needs to exercise can really be a challenge.  Here are a few tips to help your children with autism and ADHD become excited to participate in a fitness program and improve kids’ health.

  • Create progress sheets/displays.  Everyone likes to see improvement.  Create a visual representation that shows where your child began (ie – 3 sit-ups), where you child is now (5 sit-ups) and displays your child’s goal (10 sit-ups).
  • Does your child have a specific interest?  Shape the exercise routine to fit your child’s hobbies.  For example, if your child enjoys comic books, create an obstacle course based on a scenario from Marvel’s The Avengers using old sheets, lawn chairs, boxes or even sofa cushions and mattresses.  Pretend Loki has returned to Earth.  Your child should choose his/her favorite Avenger and use that character’s power to conquer the maze and save the planet.
  • Make fitness fun by exergaming!  Does your child like video games, but dislikes “exercising”?  Combine the two for a great workout! Exergaming combines cutting-edge technology with exercise.
    • A study written by UTMB’s Claudia Hilton, associate professor, Tim Reistetter, associate professor and Diane Collins, assistant professor, all from the UTMB occupational therapy and rehabilitation sciences departments, concludes, “Findings suggest the use of exergaming, more specifically the Makoto Arena, has the potential to serve as a valuable addition to therapies for children with autism spectrum disorders who have motor and executive function impairments.”
    • Through the use of exergaming – especially the Makoto Arena – researchers showed improvement in response speed, executive function and motor skills among children with autism. Researchers believe the exertion of participating in this type of game helps to improve the neural connections in the brains of these children.
    • I have seen these positive results firsthand in the gym I founded more than 25 years ago – Fitness for Health. My fitness trainers and I work with the special needs community using the Makoto Arena and other exergaming equipment to track results as they happen, so kids can gain the confidence that comes from seeing his or her performance improve over time.
  • Include the whole family.  Everyone can benefit from additional exercise so become a role model for your kids by helping them try new activities.  Show them that fitness for kids can be exciting and can be easily incorporated into daily life.  Make fitness fun and teach your kids the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle from a young age.  The younger a child is when this lesson is learned, the more opportunity for a healthy adulthood.
  • Reward difficult exercises with 10 minutes of a fun activity your child selects.  I’ve found that the children I train in my therapeutic fitness center for people with special needs, Fitness for Health, try their best to complete difficult tasks in order to have the freedom to choose their own ending activity.  This helps build self-esteem and empowers the child to make decisions about his/her fitness routine.

One of the most important points to consider is how to motivate your child to exercise of his/her own will. Asking your child to continually perform exercises just for a small reward will not last long, but helping your child to find enjoyment in exercise will promote lifelong fitness. This isn’t revolutionary, this is ABA applied to exercise.

About Fitness for Health:

Recognized as Washington Family Magazine’s 2016 Best Special Needs Program and Best Special Needs Camp in the DC Area and a finalist for About.com’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Special Needs Resource in the D.C. Region, Fitness for Health, founded by Marc Sickel who also suffers from ADD, specializes in creating personalized, therapeutic programs for children with a broad range of special needs:

  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Gross motor delays
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
  • Pervasive developmental disorders
  • Down Syndrome
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • ADD/ADHD/LD
  • Developmental and physical disabilities
  • Confidence and self-esteem issues
  • Emotional disturbances and anxiety disorders

At Fitness for Health, you get a complete team—including pediatric fitness specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists—working together to create a full-service plan of care that’s expertly tailored to your child’s developmental, skill and comfort levels while providing fitness for kids using cutting-edge, exergaming technology. As a parent, you’re involved every step of the way.  Learn more about our therapeutic exerciseoccupational therapy services, and physical therapy services today.