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Brain Benefits of Exercise for Autism & Learning Differences

By Daniel Stein


The Link Between The Body & The Brain

The mind and the body are inextricably linked through the brain, so it’s no wonder that physical exercise can have such a positive impact there too. Working out and enjoying an active lifestyle can have an even greater effect on those on the autism spectrum. Here are some major brain benefits of exercise for autism and learning differences:

Releases Dopamine and Endorphins

Endorphins and Dopamine are neurotransmitters that can impact your mood. Dopamine impacts the behavior of other neurotransmitters, so the more dopamine you have, the more likely you are to have your other “happy” neurons fire. Dopamine is your body’s way of positively reinforcing behavior. If you work out and it makes you feel good (which it does, when you get a rush of Endorphins), then you body releases Dopamine, which basically says, “That was fun! Let’s do that again.”

 

Young man uses an exercise device with the guidance of Daniel Stein

 

Balances Norepinephrine

Norepinephrine is similar to Endorphins and Dopamine in that all three are neurotransmitters that can be responsible for certain moods and behaviors. However, Norepinephrine has more to do with arousal, which exists, fittingly, on a spectrum. On one side, you have excitement, while on the other, you have anxiety and panic. In individuals with autism and learning differences, Norepinephrine behaves erratically, which means they’re more prone to fear and stress in the face of seemingly minor situations. Regular exercise can help balance the Norepinephrine.

Centers the Cerebellum

An overactive cerebellum, or the part of the brain at the back of the skull, is the cause for fidgeting and hyperactivity. Both of these symptoms are particularly prevalent in people with Autism and learning differences. Exercise works to center the cerebellum and ease the side effects of having an overactive one!

Improves Motor Skills

Fidgeting tends to fall in the same category as fine motor skills. If you have a hard time stopping yourself from performing small compulsive movements (like rocking and hand waving), then you’ll also have a hard time controlling the small intentional movements too (like catching a ball and writing). Exercise grounds people with autism and learning differences into their bodies. It helps them become more aware of even the most minuscule movements.

Improves Information Processing & Memory

Research has shown that exercise can increase the volume of the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that is responsible for housing long-term memories. Exercise also positively impacts the cerebral cortex, the part that processes information. (The connection is seamless, as information processing is vital for forming new memories.) When people with autism and learning differences maintain an exercise routine, they can improve their quality of life through deeper understanding of their surroundings and a stronger retention of that understanding.

 

Young man lifts weights with the guidance of Daniel Stein

Brain Benefits of Exercise for Autism & Learning Differences: A Recap

Exercise does more than help you lose weight, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, give you energy, and improve your sleep patterns (all of which, you probably already knew). It also helps those on the spectrum and with learning differences in these areas: mood improvement, anxiety reduction, more control over movement, better information processing, and enhanced memory storage. Now that you know the brain benefits of exercise for autism and learning differences, sign yourself or your child up for personal training or boot camp classes with trainers who understand what you’re going through.

Special Strong provides nutrition and adapted fitness for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down syndrome, and other challenges. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for educators, professionals, and parents who want to learn how to adapt fitness to serve the special needs population

Headshot of Daniel Stein

With fitness certifications through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT) and becoming a Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer, Daniel Stein specializes in health and fitness for the special needs population. In 2016, Daniel and his wife, Trinity, started Special Strong. Special Strong provides nutrition and adapted fitness for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for educators, professionals, and parents who want to learn how to adapt fitness to serve the special needs population.