The most effective way to help children with autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and Tourette syndrome get more exercise is to make it fun, according to a small international study that surveyed 132 adult caretakers of children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Focusing on an activity or sport that comes easily to the children is another top motivator for staying physically active. In fact, lack of skill was found to be a much larger deterrent than more concrete barriers such as financial and transportation limitations.
“We found that a child having fun was a much greater indicator of how likely he or she was to continue exercising,” said first author Matthew Lustig, senior medical student at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
“In targeting interventions that increase exercise, creating more cost-effective options may not be as necessary as creating more fun options.”
The information from his survey was presented on a poster at the American Medical Association Research Symposium in Orlando, Florida.
Participant recruitment was enabled by an Internet questionnaire distributed via Facebook to a wide range of groups associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. This approach allowed for national and international participation from adults living with individuals with a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders.
The most prevalent disorders included autism, intellectual disability, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome. The young people in their homes were a median age of 17 years of age; 57 percent were male; and the vast majority were white.
The caretakers reported that their go-to sources for exercise information were the Internet, family, and friends. However, they did say that they would like their child’s physician to answer their exercise-related questions.
The survey left Lustig with several questions he plans to pursue, including why pediatricians weren’t considered the caretakers’ first go-to source.
There was a strong belief in the neurological benefits of exercise. In fact, a large majority of the respondents said they believed that regular exercise would help prevent or delay complications of neurodevelopmental disorders and provide short- and long-term benefits for their child’s physical, emotional, and social well-being.
The survey respondents reported plenty of exercise among their children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
According to the survey, the young people generally exercised five days per week for about 100 minutes daily, with cardiovascular activities like basketball, cycling and running as the primary focus. Individuals responding to the survey generally reported being physically active as well.