Autism and Getting into Exercise: Step 1 Walking

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Chinese proverb 

Walking is the perfect gateway to get into exercise.  It can be done alone or with friends.  For autistic/Aspergers people, like us, it’s a great way to unwind and put our thoughts into order.   When walking with a friend you’re often in the perfect environment to have a relaxing conversation, whilst avoiding the need for awkward eye contact.

How Walking Can be Better than Running

I love to exercise in the countryside.  I will often see many people doing the same.  Some ultra-fit, some in the middle, and those that are extremely unfit.

On several occasions I’ve seen people who are really overweight, trying their best to run as hard as they can.  Pushing themselves over the limit with exercise.  They get to such a low point in their lives, that they want to desperately change.  They believe the harder they exercise, the more weight they’ll lose.  They’re brutal to themselves.  Running for short periods, then having to stop to gasp for breath.

Exercise in this form, for a beginner, is punishing.  It puts such a strain on an unconditioned body, that it could lead to long term injuries.  It’s is much better to let your body get used to exercise gradually.  Starting with a physical activity that’s not overly strenuous.  Which will make it more sustainable and enjoyable.  Walking is the perfect exercise on the journey to fitness.

Why Walking is a Good Form of Exercise

I’ve read a great number of articles about exercise and healthy living.  Plus, have watched a countless number of programs on the subject.  But one of the best pieces of advice, I’ve heard, was broadcasted on the radio.  From a doctor that specialises in exercise.  He said that all exercise is good, no matter if it’s strenuous or not.  The best exercise is the one that you can stick to.  The only rule is that you do something that keeps your body moving, for a good period of time.  He was an advocate for walking.

Walking is one of the most gentle, natural and easy accessible methods of exercise possible. There is no great cost, and it is available to you on your doorstep.  It doesn’t put a strain on your muscles (such as your legs and back) like jogging.  Plus it’s kind to your heart.

Walking has so many benefits.  By walking and being outdoors you get:

  • Fresh air
  • Time to think, and put your thoughts in order.
  • An increase in your vitamin D, by being out in the sunlight.
  • Like all exercise, a release of dopamine. Which makes you feel happy and puts you in a positive state of mind.
  • It’s the perfect exercise for people like us with autism/Aspergers, as it can be done alone or with a close friend.

How to Burn More Calories When Walking

As amazing as walking is, it has a few small downsides.  The main one being that it doesn’t burn a vast number of calories, compared to other forms of exercise.  But that is easily remedied.  You just do it for a longer period of time.  Walking burns about half the calories of running.  So instead of doing a punishing 30 minute run/jog, you can walk for an hour and get the same benefits.

Walking for an hour may still be quite hard, when your starting out, but it is easier and more pleasant than jogging.  Another way to burn more calories is to walk up hills.  This increases the resistance, making it naturally harder, therefore using more energy.

As you start to walk more often, you will naturally increase your walking pace which increasing your calorie loss.  You can even buy weights, that strap around your ankles, which will certainly burn more energy.

Once your confidence is up, and you enjoy walking, then very gradually start to increase the duration.  A good amount of time to walk is about an hour.  This can be kept up for six months to a year.  Then if you feel ready, and want more from it, you can stretch to a greater distance and time of about one and a half hours, then two hours and so on.  The trick is to find that right balance where it is not too arduous, so you want to keep doing and enjoying it.  Against pushing yourself enough to get the real benefits of exercise.

First Time Going for a Long Walk

It’s always tough to try something new, like exercise for the first time.  This is especially true when your autistic/Aspie.  You like things the way they are, and take comfort in doing the things you’re used to.  Change is a scary thing, but sometimes change is for the better.  Once you have done it a few times you start enjoying it.  It gradually becomes easier, and part of your new routine.  Then you will get to the stage where it will upset you, when you don’t exercise.

What to Wear

The beauty of walking is that you will have most of the equipment and clothing required to get started. For the basics all you really need is a good pair of trainers or walking shoes and comfortable clothing.  In the winter an outer jacket such as a fleece with gloves and a hat.  In the summer a cap or sunglasses to keep the sun off your eyes.  Plus, some sun cream to protect your skin.  I always take a basic backpack and a bottle of water as well.

Once you get into walking you may find you get blisters. This is easily prevented.  You can rub Vaseline on your feet, on the areas where you blister, before you go for a walk.  Any Vaseline will do, even the kind that is sold in small tins for a lip moisturiser.  You can also wear two pairs of socks.  This reduces the friction between your skin and your socks which causes the blisters.

Finding Your First Walk

An issue that prevents many people from walking, is finding somewhere suitable to go.

A good target for a first walk is about 2.5 miles which should be easy achieved in under an hour.  The best routes tend to be circular.  So you don’t have the awkwardness of stopping half way and then turning around walking back the way you came.  Passing people who you’ve already passed once.

If you are lucky enough to live close to the countryside, it’s always better to start out on a familiar route.  As you know it’s safe and you’re unlikely to get lost.  If not, then it is worth fully researching the area you are going to first.  It’s a good idea to try a popular walking place, with good maps and signs along the way.

There should be plenty of beginner’s walks on the internet.  Only use the websites that give you all the necessary details.  Here, in the UK, many council websites promote walking.  They have a number of reliable routes and maps on their own websites.

Often the easiest routes are those that are accessible for people with disabilities.  As you know the ground will be easy to walk on.  In addition you can be confident you will not have to walk through fields, with animals to fend off.  You may need to drive there, or catch public transport, but it really is worth the effort for the benefits.

Once you walk on a familiar route you might stick to this as your regular walk.  Being Autistic/Aspergers is a good advantage, as rather than getting bored, and needing other places to go, you may enjoy the repetition.

Final Thoughts

Once you start walking you will start to enjoy exercise.  Which in turn will make you more open to try other forms of exercise.  I love walking but wouldn’t want to do it several times a week. I would be far too bored.

Different exercise works different parts of the body.  Or the same part of the body but in a different way.  Such as walking and cycling mainly work on the legs but use different muscles.

Doing a few different types of physical activities, that you genuinely enjoy, is the secret to you continuing to exercise for many years.  This is when you start to see the real benefits.  Such as feeling more confident about yourself, being happier in life and being less tired.  Ultimately taking more calculated risks in other aspects of your life.  Which leads into achieving other life targets, that you want and deserve.  All of this is started by taking a chance and going on your first long walk.

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