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Picture fitness books could boost physical activity in children with autism, study suggests

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Picture books could be used to boost the physical activity of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Missouri, suggests the findings may be useful for families who do not have access to personal trainers, gyms, or home fitness equipment.

According to the paper, children with neurodegenerative conditions, such as autism, frequently undertake less exercise than peers not on the spectrum, and therefore at an increased risk of physical issues, such as obesity.

But the researchers believe that fitness picture books may be the key to closing the “exercise gap” between children.

To carry out the study, the authors created fitness picture books that demonstrated how to carry out basic exercise routines, such as jumping jacks, bear crawls and lunges. These were then presented to children with autism, who were monitored over the following days.

It was found that the picture books had successfully increased the amount of time individuals with autism engaged in physical activity.

Commenting on the paper, author Lorraine Becerra said: “There is so much research geared toward helping individuals with autism improve their academic performance, social skills and communication skills, but we also need to remember how important physical activity is for living a healthy lifestyle.

“There are numerous health benefits of exercise, such as pumping blood in your body, better sleep and reduced risk of obesity. Also, if we can get kids with autism more physically engaged, they are more likely to run around and play with their peers, so there are other aspects of their life we can improve as well.”

Fitness picture books may also help low-income families who do not have access to professional equipment and personal trainers, she added.

“The great thing about the picture books is they provide simple, engaging exercises that can be done in a wide variety of settings, like a school playground, backyard or even an empty field at a park,” said Ms Becerra.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.