College of Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

Graduate Level


Graduate Program/Concentration

Kinesiology and Rehabilitation

Publication Date





Background: Clinical anxiety is a common comorbidity in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The focus of interventional therapies tends to be activities which improve gross motor function, communication, social interactions, and other behavioral skills. Certain forms of exercise have been successful in lowering anxiety levels while improving physical function.

Objective: The purpose of this systematic review was to examine the effectiveness of the use of exercise as an intervention to reduce anxiety in people with ASD.

Methods: Two databases, PubMed and Medline, were searched utilizing key terms. This yielded 35 articles for review. PRISMA systematic search procedures identified 9 studies meeting predetermined inclusion criteria. Participant characteristics, whether participants engaged in physical activity, anxiety-related outcomes, and research methodology was evaluated for each study. Each paper included was appraised and scored using Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions risk of bias tool.

Results: Evidence from 9 studies suggests that exercise can have benefits for people with ASD, including improvements in emotional response as scored by the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, third edition (GARS-3) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and a decrease the DSM-oriented anxiety scores after an exercise intervention. There was evidence of improved mood, sleep quality, social interactions, communication, and the presence of maladaptive behaviors across studies suggesting a global effect of anxiety on people with ASD.

Conclusion: The studies included in this systematic review provide moderate evidence that exercise can help improve emotional state and decrease levels of anxiety for people with ASD. However, more research must be done to fully understand the effects exercise can have on anxiety for people with ASD.


Autism Spectrum Disorder, Exercise, Physical activity, Anxiety, Autism, Anxiety disorders, Systematic review


Exercise Science | Rehabilitation and Therapy



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Exercise Interventions for Relieving Anxiety Symptoms for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review