Physical activity for persons with ADHD or autism

Exercise has attracted attention as a potential helpful intervention in persons with ADHD or autism. Effects are often emphasized on cognition, social-emotional, and motor development. The purpose of this report was to systematically review published systematic reviews on examining the effects of all types of exercise interventions in persons with ADHD or Autism.


What systematic reviews are there on exercise interventions for persons with hyperactivity and inattention (for example in ADHD or autism)?

Identified literature

Table 1. Systematic reviews with low/medium risk of bias.
ADHD = Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; PA = Physical activity * ;intensity of their maximum heart rate
Included studies Population/Intervention Outcome
Bremer et al (2016) [1]
13 studies Population:
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder aged ⩽16 years.
Exercise interventions
Numerous behavioural outcomes including stereotypic behaviours, social-emotional functioning, cognition and attention
Adverse effect:
Not reported
Authors' conclusion:
Results demonstrated that exercise interventions consisting individually of jogging, horseback riding, martial arts, swimming or yoga/dance can result in improvements to numerous behavioural outcomes including stereotypic behaviours, social-emotional functioning, cognition and attention. Horseback riding and martial arts interventions may produce the greatest results with moderate to large effect sizes, respectively. Future research with well-controlled designs, standardized assessments, larger sample sizes and longitudinal follow-ups is necessary, in addition to a greater focus on early childhood (aged 0–5 years) and adolescence (aged 12–16 years), to better understand the extent of the behavioural benefits that exercise may provide these populations.”
Suarez-Manzano et al (2018) [2]
16 studies Population:
Young people with ADHD
Physical activity (PA)
The acute and chronic effect on the cognition and behaviour of children and adolescents with ADHD
Adverse effect:
Not reported
Authors' conclusion:
PA practice of 20–30 min (intensity 40–75%)* produces a positive acute effect on processing speed, working memory, planning and problem solving in young people with ADHD. However, these effects on behaviour are contradictory and vary depending on age. Chronic PA practice (≥30 min per day, ≥40% intensity*, ≥three days per week, ≥five weeks) further improves attention, inhibition, emotional control, behaviour and motor control. The results must be treated with caution, because only 25% of the studies used confounders. More research is needed to justify the causes of these effects. It is necessary to establish programs with regard to the duration, intensity, kind of exercise, and time of PA to improve cognition and behaviour in young people with ADHD taking into account potential confounders.


  1. Bremer E, Crozier M, Lloyd M. A systematic review of the behavioural outcomes following exercise interventions for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder. Autism 2016;20: 899-915.
  2. Suarez-Manzano S, Ruiz-Ariza A, De La Torre-Cruz M, Martinez-Lopez EJ. Acute and chronic effect of physical activity on cognition and behaviour in young people with ADHD: A systematic review of intervention studies. Res Dev Disabil 2018;77,12-23.

SBU Enquiry Service Consists of structured literature searches to highlight studies that can address questions received by the SBU Enquiry Service from Swedish healthcare or social service providers. We assess the risk of bias in systematic reviews and when needed also quality and transferability of results in health economic studies. Relevant references are compiled by an SBU staff member, in consultation with an external expert when needed.

Published: 10/25/2019
Report no: ut201929
Registration no: SBU 2019/403