Anyone can tell you that routine exercise has positive physical and mental health effects for the average person. It is not a far stretch to make the assumption that this would also be the case for individuals with autism. What hasn’t been frequently studied, however, is whether or not regular physical exercise positively impacts core symptoms of Autism (i.e. communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors).
A meta-analysis (analysis of existing research) was conducted and published in 2012 by Michelle Sowa and Ruud Meulenbroek from Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. They identified 16 studies which assessed the impact of physical exercise on children and adults with autism (total of 133 participants across studies). The authors analyzed the studies and found a significant impact on motor and social skills across studies. The studies includes physical activity interventions of walking, running, swimming, horseback riding, bike riding, and strength training.
Regular exercise is obviously necessary to maintain good health for individuals with autism, but participation in these activities has been found to be significantly lower in this population. It is important for all individuals with autism to have regular physical activity be part of their program for health reasons, but it may also be important for other reasons. More studies need to be conducted, but there may be a positive impact on behavior, social skills, communication and other skills.