Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Brave New World of Autism pt 2 - Health & Fitness

“Less think, more do!” - Shardé Finn (Gym Instructor / Director) – Swan Leisure Centre, Rathmines, Dublin.

As being a certified Aspie, health and fitness has been an on and off affair; however in the close of 2013 and beginning of 2014 I started taking it seriously. I made mistakes but have since learnt from them and now have pretty much got my programme in check and my health is radically improving after discovering 3 months ago my cholesterol was sky high and I was piling on the lbs due, not due to inefficient exercise but an awful diet something I will come to later.

So now, why write this blog? Well, it has certainly come to my attention that, being an Aspie with ADHD and having a history of battling depression I noticed that doctors, health experts, psychologists and psychiatrists concentrate more so much on the brain and almost invariably forget what’s carrying it around; the vessel of the human body! 

From the one who has PTSD to Schizophrenia, from Aspergers to Autism, from Down syndrome to having the mental age of a child, the body is the same in each and every one of us; yes the brain is the most important organ in the collection but the rest is no less important in fact essential to keep healthy. We’re encouraged to keep our brain healthy via “brain exercises” so why neglect the body for the sheer sake of having a brain which is wired differently from the rest of the general populous?

The answer is simple, you don’t; the body is a vessel just like a car; if it sits in the garage it will only rust! If you sit on your backside concentrating solely on the brain the vessel will descend into a scourge of fat gain, loss of energy and disease.

For me being an Aspie I discovered the very benefits of fitness which helps in a huge way with the following areas;

1.       Mental Focus – Keeping a concentration on techniques and exercise completion. 
2.       Ridding of Anxiety – Throwing yourself into the programme boosts positive vibes.
3.       Channelling nervous energy – Having a core vision to aim for.
4.       Self confidence – Seeing your body improve overtime is highly rewarding.
5.       Health (Obviously) – Speaks for itself.
6.       Goal orientation – Helps the mind locate specific pathways & aims to shoot for.
7.       Immune Support – A body that’s worked is a body that works!

For me I pick up weights and have been for the last year, my programme is below...

The programme works for me as I am me not you, when I first joined the gym I admit I didn’t have a clue but I had some fantastic instructors - Swan Leisure Centre, Rathmines, Dublin.  But safe to say that what works for one is not for the other, so here’s a few tips for an Aspie entering fitness for the first time...

1.       Always complete an induction.
2.       Ask as many questions as you see fit.
3.       Never be afraid to make mistakes, it’s how we learn, but always err to the side of caution.
4.       Discuss at length with an instructor what you want to achieve.
5.       Know your limitations.
6.       Set yourself realistic goals.
7.       Achieve those goals!


I cannot stress enough how important it is to find the right balance between your programme and what you eat. As I said earlier I made mistakes, one of them was diet and from talking to other lads who pick up weights in the gym they made the same mistakes too.

At the start of the year I had my programme more or less perfected and I thought I was doing really well.   As far as the workload was going and I was gaining strength very quickly. So why was I putting on so much fat weight? 

The truth is a bit of a story, at first everything was fine, then the fat starting creeping back, then I had problems with the bits down below where as (and I am going to be brutally honest here) I started to get Erectile Dysfunction, now, I’ve suffered this in the past when I use to have a drinking problem but here I was, no longer drinking anywhere near the amounts I used to and hello, the old issue re-arose again.

Before I go any further, know this, Erectile Dysfunction is NOTHING to be embarrassed or ashamed about, it happens to the best of all men but it is however, an indicator something is wrong. So off I went to see my GP who performed a number of tests and discovered that my blood pressure was stuck to the ceiling, my pulse was heavy and fast so concluded I had a circulatory problem and a further blood test showed my cholesterol as sky high.

What was the cause? A bad diet!

I was eating so much protein laden foods, various meats with little or no veg, triple egg omelettes and tins upon tins of fish, thinking I was doing it right. So thus I was inputting more protein than my body could handle as well as the huge amount of calories that accompanied said protein (thus fat weight gain) and thus in turn the waste was being transferred to my kidneys causing them to be overworked (hence my high cholesterol) which resulted in causing my high blood pressure and circulatory problems and... and... and... leaving me feeling pretty crap about myself, so now you see my point about looking after the vessel as well the brain.

I felt like a right idiot but not one to admit defeat, so thus, I lowered the weights and did more reps, ate only two portions of meat a day, threw out my protein powders and started afresh.

But then I discovered, Paleo! It was a god send (and that’s coming from an Atheist) which to me spoke volumes of common sense. For those who don’t what a Paleo diet is, well, put quite simply, it’s a land foraging diet.

The best way to allocate a Paleo menu is to look at what you exclude...

1.       Dairy – Milk, Butter, Creams, Cheese, Pasta.
2.       Legumes – Peanuts, Green Beans, Corn, Peas, Beans, Lentils.
3.       Processed Meats -   Sausages, wafer chicken slices, anything with a smiley face drawn on it.
4.       Processed Drinks – Energy Drinks, Coca Cola & All other sugar laden soft drinks.
5.       Factory Poop – Anything from the backside of a factory containing all things pertaining to artificiality.

So extrapolate that in a narrowed perspective that all things in the supermarket now that remains have come from the land, i.e. Fresh vegetable, Fruit, Fresh Meats, Nuts, Salads.  If it’s been covered in something (batter, breadcrumbs) then it isn’t Paleo. 

For further reading on Paleo please go to this excellent website here...

I live by a golden rule now: “Eat what Mother Nature intended because Convenience will kill you!”

For some ideas on Paleo meals go to my FaceBook photo album here...



So it pretty much went like this, I was over 16 stone at the beginning of 2014, I then starting losing weight only to put it all back on again a few months later, I was at least 16 and a half stone again by midsummer, then starting to eat right and tweaked my programme and thus, I weighed myself again a month or so ago and I was down to 14.4 stone that’s about 92kgs. So I’ve lost two stone in three months, plus put on muscle weight and will continue to do so.

Remember: This is what I chose to do; I, nor is anyone else asking you to be pro bodybuilder and neither am I. 

Now, after 6 months...


Mental Health

So how does all this help with other conditions, some of these may fascinate you but their all true...

                Schizophrenia: There was a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry...

                                                “...found that schizophrenics who cycled three times a week for 30 minutes significantly increased the volume of the hippocampus, a section of the brain important in memory and spatial perception. The hippocampus is often found to be smaller in schizophrenics. Subjects also experienced modest gains in short-term memory.”

That to me speaks volumes of getting off your backside and getting moving, this was a study on a simple daily cycle ride for crying out loud, so come one and all, think about it, weights, treadmill, machines and the right diet, just imagine the better world awaiting you??!!

                Depression: It is well known that exercise defeats depression exponentially due to the release of endorphins which encourages the depletion of pain sensation and thus prepares the body for hard work for longer periods of time.

However, as I well know myself, depression can be tricky because depression will tell you that you’re not worth it, that you’re too tired, that’s all too hard...

I say this, don’t you believe it! A friend from many a year ago once told me...

                                                “...depression is nature’s greatest bluff!”

And he was absolutely right; anytime I feel it coming on and the downward spiral begins that’s when I dig deep, you literally punch through it and retain the control I have for my brain to command the mind not the other way around, my mind will do as it’s told.

Remember; there is nothing that can’t be achieved when feeling depressed than when you could feeling equilibrium. 

                Asperger Syndrome: Aspies would you believe, actually have the upper hand, we get into a routine and stick to it, we learn fast and it sticks. I for one have my entire programme in my mind and recall everything from memory while I observe Neurotypicals having to write it all down and rely on folders and clipboards, I can’t help but feel a bit smug about that!!! 

Aspies will put everything into it, 100% commitment once we get the grasp, all I need is a clear path and my energy is derived from, already mentioned – diet but also from being prone to environmental sensory issues, so I put all that stress, aggression, frustration and anxiety into a box in my head and let it out onto the weights and I find I can determine for myself a much more intense and focused workout; kicking ass comes as standard.  

The result is a calmer mind, a stronger body and a sharper brain atop a vessel that is working right. As I said, a body that is worked is a body that works. 

                Down Syndrome: Take a look at the photos below, says it all...

So the bottom line it seems is simply this, no matter what your state of mental health your body is pretty much the same as everyone else's in respect to fitness and exercise helps, it helps A LOT.  From improving social anxiety, ridding the mind of depression and even improving the structure of the brain for those that are Schizophrenic and furthermore, even better than all this, is that we are ALL capable; at Swan Leisure centre where I work out I see disabled people, I see people who have to get off a machine to start stimming then jump right back on the machine again, I even see people talking to themselves but first and foremost, their working at it in terms of bettering the body...

Their all making a positive difference, so what about you?

Thank you for reading


If you live in Dublin and want more information on Swan Leisure Centre in Rathmines, please Click Here

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