Stepping It up: Assessing Physical Activity of College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
T. Todd1, N. Miodrag2,3, M. Caris4, B. Endinjok5, R. Herrera6, E. V. Perez7 and M. Salazar5, (1)Kinesiology, California State University, Northridge, CA, (2)Child and Adolescent Development, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (3)Child and Adolescent Development, California State University, Northridge, Northridge, CA, (4)California State University Northridge, Los Angeles, CA, (5)Kinesiology, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (6)California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, (7)Psychology, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA
Background: College students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often face unique challenges in the college environment (Van Hess et al., 2015), experience higher levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety than peers (Scott et al., 2018), and are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles (Stanish et al., 2017). Lack of physical activity may be problematic as active lifestyles can lead to physical and mental health benefits. It is critical to assess physical activity, especially among busy college students. Physical activity programs may be one method to increase PA levels, yet empirical evidence is needed to evaluate new programs.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) to describe 10 weeks of physical activity for college students with ASD using wearable step trackers, and 2) to compare their mean steps per day (SPD) across 10 weeks of a physical activity program.

Methods: Twenty-one college students with ASD (Male = 19, Female = 2) from a large urban university participated in a 10-week peer-mentored physical activity intervention. Participants and Kinesiology students (i.e., Peer Mentors) were paired and worked out together two hours each week for 10 weeks. Participants wore a Fitbit Charge HR 2© daily for 10 consecutive weeks and SPD data were collected. Data were synced twice a week to Fitabase—a proprietary online database used to track activity levels and SPD for each participant.

Results: Average SPD were divided into step defined activity levels using Tudor-Locke’s classifications (Tudor-Locke et al., 2009). Two students (9.5%) were classified as “low active: 5,000-7,499 SPD”, 10 students (47.5%) were classified as “somewhat active: 7,500-9,999 SPD”, 5 students (24%) were classified as “ active: 10,000-12,4999 SPD”, and 4 students (19%) were classified as “highly active: ≥ 12,500 SPD”. There was a slight increase of mean SPD across the 10 weeks, however the exercise intervention did not have a statistically significant effect on steps per day, p > .05.

Conclusions: Although previous researchers have reported sedentary lifestyles in adults with ASD, our data provide evidence to suggest that college students with autism on this large urban campus appeared to lead active lifestyles. The majority of our participants consistently walked more than 7,500 SPD, with 43% of them regularly walking more than 10,000 SPD. These results are striking when compared to the average US adult SPD of 5,100-6,500 (Basset et al., 2010; Tudor-Locke et al., 2009). Participation in a 10-week physical activity program did not significantly affect the number of SPD. This may in part, be due to the university environment, which already promotes walking as students change classes and access services such as cafeterias and libraries across the large campus. Further research exploring the effects of exercise interventions on other health outcomes are warranted. Still, our finding that college students with ASD on this campus are physically active is highly encouraging for both students and the institutions that support them.