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Sunday 21 Jan 2018

Effects of Physical Exercise on Autism Spectrum Disorders

Kids Running

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.

Click here to read the full article.


  1. MistyFord says:

    Ill say that we would all BE NUTS if my son did not have frequent breaks for intense physical activity.  It helps him focus, keeps him from have his disastrous meltdowns, and keeps him talking.  the more stress, the less communication–exercise alleviates a lot of stress for him.

    • ElizabethABLuke says:

       @MistyFord I agree Misty. My ten year old son (Autistic, non verbal, non potty trained) and I swim every morning before school. This routine has helped him in many ways. He can dress himself, shower (with a little help still), dry himself indipendantly. He can doggie paddle (reach & pull) along with kicking, floating on his back, blowing bubbles and just this year complete backwards somersaults (single, double and most recently triple) from a back float and with mom spotting him. This is remarkable. Even though major flack from the powers that be at school are semi constant, we have been doing this part of his routine for 5 years. We do not plan to stop any time soon. We highly recomend it :)

  2. amyheflin2003 says:

    I am a 48 year old woman who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I have the urge and need to exercise a lot — usually 2-4 hours a day. Is this a normal symptom  of Autism. I don’t experience pain or fatigue while I exercise but rather a deeper level of mental sharpness, and clarity and peace. Do people with Asperger’s syndrome need to exercise more than average adults. My weight is a healthy 128 lbs. 

    • Avatar of
      Abby says:

      Hi Amy,
      That’s an interesting question. I haven’t seen any trends, but it is possible that exercise is essentially a coping mechanism you’ve developed over time to help yourself self-regulate. Everyone, not just individuals with Autism and Asperger’s, needs to develop a method of self-regulation to help us maintain our mental sharpness, clarity and peace. It seems as though you’ve chosen a method that is extremely healthy and will continue to help you throughout your life. As long as you’re maintaining a healthy weight and eating properly, I would consider your exercise regimen to be just right for you.

      As a consultant who works with families and schools, I actually encourage integrating high levels of physical activity into daily routines for just that purpose. Many individuals engage in self-regulatory behavior that may be maladaptive so teaching them to engage in high levels of physical activity can potentially replace maladaptive behaviors.

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