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Exercise For Autism: 8 Effective Workouts For Autistic Children 2023

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Ramakrishnan, G., Ph.D

exercise for autism

Children with autism typically have trouble expressing themselves. Most therapies for managing this condition do not get your kids to move around a lot. 

However, autistic kids need exercise, especially since they are twice as likely to be obese[1] than their counterparts.  

Getting autistic kids involved in exercise can be a challenge. Nevertheless, if you stick to simple routines, you could help them meet their workout goals for a fit body and sharp mind.  

Exercises for Kids With Autism 

Here are some fun exercises for your kids with autism:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Arm circles
  • Medicine ball slams
  • Star jumps 
  • Jumping jacks 
  • Karate 
  • Yoga 

8 Important Exercises for Kids with Autism

Walking 

A simple walk is an easy way to include an exercise in your autistic child’s life. You do not have to hit 10 miles daily before your walk counts as exercise.  

Start small, a short distance from your home, and increase the distance as your child’s tolerance increases.  

You could spice things up by taking your pet along. Your kid might get some comfort from having your dog around during the walk. 

You do not have to stop for a little walk around your neighborhood. If your child is feeling up to it, you could try going hiking. Look up trails in your neighborhood that you think your child can handle. 

Remember to pack up a snack bag, water, and anything else your child might need to have a good time. 

Biking 

exercise for autism

Stationary bikes are excellent for getting some leg workouts into your child’s schedule. 

Time on the bike will help turn up your kid’s heart rate and burn fat. 

Want to include a nice view? 

You might want to opt for regular bikes. A bike trip around the neighborhood would add some excitement to this workout. 

Biking around the neighborhood could also be a fun group activity for the neighborhood kids that could help your child foster social relations. 

Arm Circles 

exercise for autism

Taking a break from the fast-paced exercises, arm circles are great for upper body workouts.

The best part about arm circles is that it is similar to autistic movements.  Such exercises could help provide feedback[2] for your child and possibly reduce such repetitive behaviors. 

You do not need any fancy equipment, just have your kids:

  1. Stand with their feet apart 
  2. Raise their arms to shoulder level at their sides 
  3. Spin their arms in small circles 
  4. Gradually make the circles bigger 
  5. Repeat the process 20 times 
  6. Start over in the reverse direction 

Medicine Ball Slams 

exercise for autism

Core strengthening exercises like throwing weighted objects like medicine balls might be excellent for your autistic child.  

Medicine ball slams also help improve coordination and might have therapeutic benefits for your child.  

To get started, you need only get the medicine balls and proceed to:

  1. Stand with your feet apart and hold the medicine ball in your hands
  2. Lift the ball over your head
  3. Slam the ball on the ground with great force 
  4. Get in a squatting position to pick up the ball 
  5. Repeat the process 20 times 
  6. Throw the ball at targets to challenge and improve your kid’s coordination 

Star Jumps 

exercise for autism

A full-body workout such as star jumps could help your child with autism become more aware of their body and develop cardiovascular endurance.  

Star jumps also help strengthen leg and core muscles. You won’t need exercise equipment for this workout either.  

You and your child would need to:

  1. Start by squatting with your arms tucked close to your chest 
  2. Jump up quickly 
  3. While in the air, extend your arms and legs into a wide X
  4. Land on the ground and return to the original squatting position 
  5. Repeat the process 20 times. 

Jumping Jacks 

exercise for autism

Jumping jacks are also full-body exercises that work on your lungs, heart, and muscles.  

You need only some free space to start jumping and you’re on your way to burning calories and building endurance.  

Here’s how to do[3] the jumping jacks:

  1. Start standing, arms at your sides and feet apart. 
  2. Jump up and spread your feet wide while bringing your arms to nearly touch above your head
  3. Jump again and close your feet while returning your arms to your side 
  4. Repeat the process 20 times 

Karate 

exercise for autism

Kids with autism can also benefit from martial arts like karate. It will help them develop body awareness and coordination.  

Karate is also a great way for your kids to build strength. 

If your kids are having trouble communicating and expressing themselves, karate could help improve their communication deficit[4]

Yoga 

exercise for autism

Yoga could help your child better handle social settings.  For instance, personal yoga mats could help your kid understand and respect personal space.  

Following slowed-down facial and vocal cues could also help your autistic child develop imitation and other skills[5] that would be useful for building meaningful relationships. 

Furthermore, yoga might help your kid improve flexibility, muscle strength, coordination, and spatial perception.

Benefits of Exercise for Kids With Autism 

When we are looking for reasons to get on the treadmill, we usually think of weight loss, strength training, and to clear our heads. These are the typical benefits of exercise that come off the top of our heads. 

These benefits extend to autistic kids too.  Children with autism are two times as likely to become overweight or obese and would benefit from a good workout to stay in shape. 

So, if you have an autistic child under your care, you might need to work twice as hard to keep their weight within healthy limits.

Exercise benefits for children with autism go beyond weight loss and strength training.  It could help with the development of motor and social skills[6] that help your kid build relationships. 

For example, some kids with autism have trouble with developing coordination for routine activities such as kicking a ball during a football game or handling scissors for an art project.

These limitations could hold your child back from potentially beneficial social interactions. However, exercise might help your kid develop the skills they need to participate. 

Speech therapy is not news to many parents of autistic kids. Some kids need that push from speech and behavior therapy to overcome their communication deficit. 

Exercises such as karate and yoga in addition to traditional behavior therapy help foster improved sensory response and decreased communication deficit. 

Group activities where your child is comfortable could also help them integrate better into social settings. 

Tips for Exercise with Autistic Kids 

  • Consult your doctor.  Start your exercise routine with a doctor’s appointment to get the okay signal. Some exercises such as jumping jacks or star jumps can be hard on the ankles and you want to make sure your child is ready to handle such strain. 
  • Start slow.  You are not training for a marathon, so there is no need to try all the exercises on the list on your first attempt. A few exercises a couple of minutes each day will go a long way and you can bump things up as your child gets more comfortable. 
  • Stay simple. Stick to simple exercises that do not require complex steps. Complex workouts can be overwhelming and your autistic child could have trouble keeping up. 
  • Pay attention to your kid’s needs. Check regularly to see that your child is not in pain during workouts. You definitely do not want your kids to get hurt while working out.  
  • Set a routine.  Autistic children typically work better with routines, so you could set one up. A simple daily exercise routine would be excellent for getting your child to stay open to the idea of exercise.

Conclusion 

Including exercise in your autistic child’s routine is an excellent way to keep fit,  build muscle strength, and improve motor skills. 

Exercise could help your child communicate better, thus improving their quality of life. 

The following exercises might be great for your kid with autism:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Arm circles
  • Medicine ball slams
  • Star jumps 
  • Jumping jacks 
  • Karate 
  • Yoga 

+ 6 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Criado, K.K., Sharp, W.G., McCracken, C.E., De Vinck-Baroody, O., Dong, L., Aman, M.G., McDougle, C.J., McCracken, J.T., Eugene Arnold, L., Weitzman, C., Leventhal, J.M., Vitiello, B. and Scahill, L. (2017). Overweight and obese status in children with autism spectrum disorder and disruptive behavior. Autism, [online] 22(4), pp.450–459. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5581311/
  2. ‌Russell Lang *, Lynn Kern Koegel, Kristen Ashbaugh, April Regester, Whitney Ence, Whitney Smith (20100,,Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Available at: https://education.ucsb.edu/sites/default/files/autism_center/docs/Lang,%20Koegel,%20Ashbaugh,%20Regester,%20Ence,%20Smith%20(2010)%20Physical%20exercise%20and%20individuals%20with%20ASD%20a%20systematic%20review.pdf
  3. Marcin, A. (2018). Benefits of Jumping Jacks and How to Do Them. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/jumping-jacks#how-to
  4. ‌Bahrami, F., Movahedi, A., Marandi, S.M. and Sorensen, C. (2015). The Effect of Karate Techniques Training on Communication Deficit of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, [online] 46(3), pp.978–986. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26577688/
  5. ‌Radhakrishna, S., Nagarathna, R. and Nagendra, H. (2010). Integrated approach to yoga therapy and autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, [online] 1(2), p.120. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151379/
  6. Rafie, F., Shikh, M., Jalali, S. and Pourranjbar, M. (2015). Physical Exercises and Motor Skills in Autistic Children. Iranian journal of public health, [online] 44(5), pp.724–5. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4537639/

Medically reviewed by:

Jennifer Anyabuine holds a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and is currently a medical student. She is a freelance medical writer specializing in creating content to improve public awareness of health topics.

Medically reviewed by:

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