A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2022 | Number 4, Volume 36

Exercise may help to lower levels of anxiety in ASD

Anxiety is a very common issue for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and a new study from China suggests that vigorous exercise may help to reduce this problem. 

Hailin Li and colleagues used accelerometers to obtain data on the activity levels over a seven-day period of 78 children with ASD, ranging from six to nine years of age. The researchers analyzed the amount of time spent in sedentary behavior or in light, moderate, moderate-to-vigorous, or vigorous physical activity. 

They report that somatic symptoms, panic, and generalized anxiety, as measured by the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders, were inversely associated with the average daily minutes spent in vigorous exercise, and total anxiety scores on this measure were inversely associated with daily duration of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. In addition, emotional symptoms, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, were inversely associated with average daily time spent in vigorous or moderate-to-vigorous exercise. 

The researchers also found that symptoms associated with ASD, such as social problems, repetitive behavior, or motor problems, were not related to levels of physical activity. This suggests that differences in ASD symptoms do not play a significant role in the amount of physical activity engaged in by children with ASD. 

The researchers conclude, “Our findings offer [a] potentially fruitful avenue for ASD children and their parents who are interested in improving emotional symptoms… and may provide policymakers with an extra motivation to implement physical activity [programs] with varying intensities.”


“Associations of emotional/behavioral problems with accelerometer-measured sedentary behavior, physical activity and step counts in children with autism spectrum disorder,” Hailin Li, Bijun Shi, Xin Wang, Muqing Cao, Jiajie Chen, Siyu Liu, Xiaoling Zhan, Chengkai Jin, Zhaohuan Gui, Jin Jing, and Yanna Zhu, Frontiers in Public Health, October 2022 (free online). Address: Jin Jing, Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China, [email protected].