Supporting Exercise & Fitness Goals

Cynthia DeFerrari
Blog Post

As we navigate through our daily lives, physical activity is often connected to a wealth of benefits.  From gaining physical strength and endurance to benefiting from the social aspects of fitness activities, staying fit can significantly increase the likelihood of a healthy and happy life.  As a Harvard Health Publishing article notes, “Whether you’re 9 or 90, abundant evidence shows exercise can enhance your health and well-being… The benefits of exercise may sound too good to be true, but decades of solid science confirm that exercise improves health and can extend your life.”

Moreover, there can often be additional benefits for autistic individuals. Science Direct reports the highlights of exercise for individuals on the spectrum included improvement of social skills as well as motor skills.  

While staying active has many positive benefits, adopting a fitness routine can be hard. Sometimes social and communication challenges can make joining a physical fitness group or engaging in a fitness program a daunting task for people on the spectrum, or they may face initial challenges with balance and coordination.

Getting Started

AANE’s LifeMAP coaches have great advice on how to support autistic individuals with fitness goals. The first step is simply talking about how staying active has a myriad of advantages. With an abundance of physical activities to choose from — such as running, tennis, biking, yoga, swimming, etc. — the key is to foster a willingness to try out different options until one finds a good fit. As one of our coaches said, “We have an opportunity to talk about the value of exercise (physically, cognitively, emotionally) during our coaching sessions. We will engage in conversation or play games while my client walks. This is one way that we connect a preferred activity with what was once a non-preferred activity.  It’s important to talk with your client about how physical fitness can help affect other areas of your life in a positive way.” 

Some LifeMAP coaches have begun to utilize various exercise videos since the onset of the pandemic to engage clients in independent fitness. One coach participated in an online yoga class with his client. “We later talked about the enjoyment we received along with gaining a feeling of strength and flexibility, confidence, and stress reduction,” he said. Strategies to promote physical fitness can be tailored to fit each individual’s goals and level of ability. 

Added Benefits

LifeMAP clinicians and coaches shared that they have found a daily schedule of physical activity provides clients with additional social opportunities. “We have seen clients who were previously isolated begin online fitness programs and then are encouraged to step up their fitness routines to group activities from the sheer enjoyment of exercise,” one LifeMAP coach noted.

Many LifeMAP clients also see that regular exercise not only improves physical health, but also adds to the quantity and quality of social interactions.  One LifeMAP client expressed, “My coach helped me to start my fitness journey in small steps.  For example, while I was initially reluctant to walk alone, my coach encouraged me to walk my dog.  As time progressed, I began to expand my activities to include running with a neighbor who walks their dog with me. Not only did I increase my fitness level, but I have gained a new friendship.” Others have talked about how they have engaged other family members in after-dinner walks where they have meaningful conversations while keeping up with their fitness routine.  

“Exercise also promotes focus, improves academic performance, and overall fitness,” one of our LifeMAP coaches stated.  “I have observed an improvement in emotional regulation with my clients as we have navigated towards a more significant participation in a fitness program.”

Whatever the activity, a lifelong fitness program can promote good health, social connections, and confidence. 


LifeMAP Coaching Programs provide a variety of strategies and resources that encourage clients to participate in a healthy lifestyle including physical fitness, and other life goals. For more information,  please visit the LifeMAP page.