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Exercise To Improve Confidence, Self-Esteem and Behaviour In Children And Young Adults With Neurodevelopmental Disorders

How Exercise Can Help Children and Young Adults Get

  • Stronger

  • Fitter

  • Healthier

  • And Improve Their Confidence, Self-Esteem and Behaviour

Even if:

  • They Have Never Exercised Before

  • They Have Tried Exercise Before And Didn't Like It

  • They Have A Neurodevelopmental Disorder Like Autism, Intellectual Disability, Cerebral Palsy or ADHD

So, Now You Know Why Exercise Can Be Good, What Should You Do? 

The current physical activity guidelines recommend that children aged 5 to 17 years be completing 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity that increases their heart rate each day. 

Which is a lot! 

Especially, if they have ever struggled with exercise or have a disability that affects their ability to be able to exercise the same way as someone who does not. 

So our first recommendation is to not worry about the guidelines just yet. Because right now it's just about finding not just how much exercise they need to do, but finding exercise that is right for them. Exercise that helps them feel better about themselves

The most important thing with exercise is that someone actually does it. And for this to occur, not only do they have to want to do it, they have to enjoy it. To some, this may sound impossible, but that is probably because they only know the exercise they have seen on TV or social media. This looks like working REALLY hard, getting REALLY sweaty and ending up feeling worse than when they started. But, exercise doesn't have to look like this, nor should it.

So, we need to find the right exercise for them. 

To achieve this we need to find the right dose of exercise, the same way you need the right dose of a medication!

By prescribing exercise like doctors prescribe medication (what we do as Exercise Physiologists) we can build a safe physical activity and exercise program that they enjoy and helps them gain the physical benefits of exercise (like getting stronger and fitter) as well as the mental benefits of exercise (like behaviour management and improved confidence and self esteem).

What Is An Exercise Physiologist? 

Have you heard of an Exercise Physiologist but aren't quite sure what they do or how they can help?

Exercise Physiologists were created and are here for a very specific reason. 

70% of children aged 2-17 do not do enough exercise. 

Some of the most common reasons for people not doing enough exercise included poor health or injury and you can’t blame them! 

Exercise Physiologists are created to help these people do enough exercise to achieve their health goals and work with them through their injury or illness. 

How do they do this? 

An exercise physiologist will provide someone with an exercise prescription to help improve their current health and wellbeing in the same way their GP may prescribe them with medication or other medical interventions.

We assess, find out what it is they need and prescribe the perfect program. 

If you are worried about your child starting exercise and want some expert advice from someone who specialises in using exercise as medicine or you just need some support, maybe consider reaching out to an exercise professional to help you get started!

Before you start exercising, here are some important tips!

  1. Make It Fun: Find exercises that they enjoy and try to make it fun! Sometimes this may mean incorporating exercise with their current hobbies or routines (even if that's things like computer games or watching tv). 

  2. Make It Part Of Their Routine: Try to make exercise a part of their routine. No one likes the unexpected and routine will help them stick with it long term. Try and work with them to decide on what day and/or time of day you do your exercise, the more it's their decision, the more likely they will stick to it. 


So What Sort Of Exercises Should They Be Doing? 

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is exercise that strengthens our aerobic system, which our heart and lungs are responsible for, though improvements in this system will positively affect our entire body, so that's why this is first! 

For aerobic exercise we recommend starting with as little as 5 minutes and building up over time to a 30 minute effort. This can be any form of exercise where they are moving multiple joints of their body over and over again, often in a cyclical motion. From easiest to hardest this can be things like: 

  1. Air Punches 

  2. Riding a bicycle/ Using an Arm Cycle

  3. Walking 

  4. Swimming

  5. Running 

Once you have established a routine with this, you want to try and get to the right difficulty, which is going to be a point where they start to get a little breathless, but can still hold a conversation.

Leg Strength 

The largest muscles in our body are in our lower body, the more muscle we recruit at any one time has a positive effect on many systems in our body, so this form of exercise comes in at second. 

Leg Strength exercises are movements where the muscles in our legs either overcome an external resistance (like a band or a weight) or the resistance of our own body. 

WAIT | Aren't Weights Bad For Kids?! Don’t They Stunt Growth?! 

Fortunately, this has been disproven. In fact some of the time, the reason we use weights in the forms of machines and cables is actually because the load is less than the weight of their body weight. This means they can increase their strength safely, when maybe their body weight is too hard. Other times, the loads we use to add to body weight are still significantly less than the loads they experience when they are running and jumping (which can sometimes be the equivalent of 3 x Body weight in force). By using weights, we can get their joints strong enough to tolerate these loads safely. 

Leg Strength exercises from easiest to hardest: 

Upper Body Strength 1 - Pushing

Next we need to improve their upper body strength and we can work almost all of the muscles in the upper body with just 2 different movements. One to push and one to pull. Pushing exercise from easiest to hardest: 

Upper Body Strength 2 - Pulling 

Pulling exercise from easiest to hardest: 

Core Strength 

Finally we want to build a strong and resilient core. Core exercises from easiest to hardest: 

Strength - How Much and How Hard? 

For our strength exercises it's most important that we learn the movement in the early stages. This means doing less than you think and easier than you think. 

We typically recommend starting with 2 sets of each exercise with a minute rest between each set, completing 5 - 8 repetitions or holds of 30-60s and working with a load that is 4 repetitions away from failure or a 6 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. Meaning if they could do 10 reps, they only do 6. 

Other Things To Consider 

We also want to work towards a level of athleticism and we can progress movements like this also. 

  1. Balance Exercises 

  2. Landing Exercises 

  3. Jumping Exercises

  4. Hopping Exercises

  5. Running Exercises 

We also want to incorporate things like Throwing, Catching and Kicking.

Orlando's story

We have been fortunate enough to work with many children and young adults to improve their health, self-esteem and confidence. One of them was Orlando, who has been coming to see us for many years now. Check out this little video of him here:

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