Why exercise is so important for neurodiverse children

Taking regular exercise is important for everyone, but it can be especially transformative for those with neurodiverse conditions.  Here are some of the ways regular, and if possible varied, exercise can help neurodiverse children.

Enhancing Cognitive Function:

Regular exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on cognitive function, attention, and executive functioning in neurodiverse children. Physical activity stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and neurotrophic factors, promoting the growth and development of brain cells, which in turn supports cognitive processes and boosts overall brain function.

Reducing Anxiety and Improving Mood:

Neurodiverse children often experience higher levels of anxiety and mood dysregulation. Exercise acts as a natural mood booster, releasing endorphins that alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. Engaging in physical activities provides a healthy outlet for emotional expression, reduces tension, and promotes relaxation.

Enhancing Sensory Integration:

Sensory integration (the processing, integration and organisation of sensory info from the body and the environment) plays a crucial role in the daily lives of neurodiverse children. Exercise helps promote sensory integration by providing opportunities for movement and proprioceptive input (sense of body awareness and position). Activities like running, jumping, swinging, or dancing stimulate the proprioceptive and vestibular systems (creates sense of balance and spatial orientation), helping with sensory modulation and improving overall sensory processing skills. Trampolines and various types of swings can be useful tools for helping children in this area.

Developing Motor Skills and Coordination:

Many neurodiverse children face challenges in developing motor skills and coordination. Regular exercise helps promote the development of gross motor skills, balance, coordination, and spatial awareness. Engaging in activities such as cycling, swimming, or even team sports,  provides opportunities for skill-building, boosting confidence and independence.

Improving Social Skills and Peer Interaction:

Participating in exercise and sports activities provides neurodiverse children with opportunities for socialisation and peer interaction. Taking part in team sports, group classes, or community programmes helps them to develop social skills, communication, cooperation, and teamwork. The shared goal and structured nature of physical activities foster positive social connections and a sense of belonging.

Promoting Physical Health and Well-being:

Regular exercise contributes to improved physical health and well-being in all children. It helps manage weight, improves cardiovascular health, strengthens bones and muscles, and supports overall physical development. A healthy body positively impacts mental well-being and boosts self-esteem.

Enhancing Focus and Attention:

Exercise has been found to enhance focus, attention, and self-regulation in neurodiverse children. Physical activity increases blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, optimising cognitive function and promoting better concentration. The slow, rhythmic nature of activities like yoga or tai chi can be particularly beneficial in promoting calmness and focus.

Exercise holds many benefits for neurodiverse children, positively influencing their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical well-being. 

Whether through structured sports programmes, recreational activities, or simply by encouraging active play, it’s vital to support and empower neurodiverse children through exercise and movement. 

Remember, it’s essential to consider each child’s individual abilities and preferences when selecting exercise options. If necessary do consult with healthcare professionals, therapists, or adaptive sports specialists who can help tailor exercise programmes to meet the specific needs of your child, ensuring safety and maximising the benefits of physical activity.