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Cardiovascular Fitness and Autism

Cardiovascular fitness and autism is definitely an area of health that needs some investigation. A few years back I walked into relatively new autism school. Their school was inviting, without clutter and plenty of sunlight beaming in through each of the many windows. This was back in my “Beyond Boundaries Fitness” days prior to the creation of Autism Fitness. 

Eventually we got to the basement where they had their modest gym. In the corner were a trampoline, a large stability ball, and two treadmills. “Look at our treadmills!,” the administrator gushed. I tried to explain it gently. Meet Eric Chessen, M.S., Autism Fitness Founder, Party Ruiner.

Cardiovascular Fitness and Autism are a Misunderstood Pair

Long ago in a book on health and fitness, one Dr. Cooper wrote a bland paragraph about how running a little bit (perhaps up to a mile) would be beneficial for people. The idea, in the sort of anomoly that Malcolm Gladwell writes about, took off in a huge way. Enter the running and aerobic craze of the 70’s…and it persists today. And now much has to be undone in  the way we come to cardovascular fitness and autism.

Most of the kids, teens, and young adults with autism that I have worked with have low tone or poor strength in the lower body.  In addition to being monumentally boring, running on a treadmill (or on concrete, no matter how many of your neighbors are doing it) is a poor exercise choice compared to other options. Cardiovascular fitness and autism need to be explored and explained.

Kid on a treadmill. Not my athlete and not on my time.

A major part of the cardiovascular fitness and autism issue is that people are stuck for ideas and have misconceptions about the physical health needs of young populations.  Human beings didn’t really evolve to run long distances. Instead, our physical structure makes us good at pushing, pulling, bending, crawling, jumping, and running fast for short distances (sprinting). Despite the Adaptive and Cognitive differences in the autism population, the physical needs remain similar to every other human being.

Cardiovascular Fitness and Autism Programming

Strength-based movements are not only heart-healthy, but can improve lagging areas of physical ability. Putting a few exercises in a row, one after another in a “circuit” can increase heart rate while building strength, stability, and coordination without sacrificing ability. Some of my favorite Autism Fitness circuit activities include choosing 3 or 4 of the following exercises and having an individual or group of athletes perform them for 30-45 seconds each:

– Bear Walks

– Short hops on spot markers

– Rope swings

– Sandbell Slams

– Med ball Scoop toss/High toss

– Wall climb (where applicable)

– Overhead carries

Take-home notes on cardiovascular fitness and autism

– Individuals with autism do not need to log miles on a treadmill or on a track to develop good heart health

– More “open-ended” activities are not only more appropriate, but better for building strength, stability, and general physical ability

– The equipment needed to create a superb fitness program for individuals with autism is substantially less expensive than large machines that have limited use

– “Circuits” or Fitness obstacle courses can be developed for any individual or group of any ability level

Live Inspired,


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