Ifit: A Peer-Supported Physical Activity Program for College Students with ASD
Objectives: The aim of this study was to increase time spent in PA and encourage college students with ASD to participate in regular exercise. Specifically, we set out to examine the effects of a PA program on: (1) levels of physical fitness (1-mile walk, sit-ups, push-ups, and sit and reach), and (2) psychosocial wellbeing (anxiety symptoms) of young adults with ASD.
Methods: IFiT (Into Fitness Together) is a 10-week, individualized peer-mentored PA program tailored to address the motor and social barriers to PA among college students with ASD. Eleven male college students with ASD and 11 college Kinesiology majors (peer mentors) participated in the program. Students with ASD were paired with a peer mentor. Dyads met twice a week for 10 weeks for a minimum of 120 minutes of PA of their choice and 30 minutes to plan activities for the coming week, including 30 minutes of individual exercise. Anthropometric, fitness, and anxiety measures were taken pre- and post-intervention. Fitness measures included the timed 1-mile walk to provide an estimate of aerobic capacity, sit-ups and push-ups for muscular strength and endurance, and the sit and reach test for assessing flexibility. Self-reported anxiety was assessed using the Beck Anxiety Inventory.
Results: Cardiovascular endurance, as measured by the timed 1-mile walk, significantly increased from pre- (M = 41.19) to post-intervention (M = 49.13), t(10)= 12.26, p < .01. Muscular strength as measured by push-ups increased significantly from pre- to post-intervention (M = 7.33, M = 11.22, respectively), t(10)=7.33, p < .05. The sit and reach results were also statistically significant showing gains in flexibility from pre- (M = 12.45) to post-intervention (M = 15.23), t(10)= 3.79 p < .05. There were no significant changes from pre- to post-test for muscular endurance or anxiety. Adherence to the program was 96.17%.
Conclusions: College students with ASD increased their fitness levels after participating in a 10-week, peer-mentored PA program. Participants engaged in a variety of activities, attended on a regular basis, and reported enjoying the program. IFiT is a fun, accessible, and low-cost program that holds much promise for increasing PA and fitness amongst young adults with ASD, who generally do not meet the national guidelines for PA. The peer-mentor model may have contributed to the success of the program.