Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Physical activity levels and autism (again)

"Adolescents with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] spent less time in MVPA [moderate and vigorous physical activity] compared to TD [typically developing] adolescents (29 min/day vs. 50 min/day, p < 0.001) and fewer met the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (14 vs. 29%, p > 0.05)."

So said the study results published by Heidi Stanish and colleagues [1] adding yet more to another growth autism research area - physical activity and exercise - a topic also fast becoming a repetitive blogging issue for me.

It's not necessarily new news that physical activity and exercise levels are not what they could or should be for many people on the autism spectrum (see here) but rather that the use of objective measures such as accelerometers for data collection are starting to put some scientific flesh on previous 'what exercise did you do' type questionnaire studies. And the trend that is being revealed really is quite a disturbing one if one assumes that physical activity is a significant gateway to rude health and well-being, particularly in the context of ever-increasing waistlines and onward longitudinal effects. I might even point you in the direction of some new research hinting that MVPA in childhood might predict "fewer symptoms of major depressive disorders" later on; something that could be particularly relevant to autism in light of those over-represented comorbidities that I keep going on about (see here).

Stanish et al have been mentioned before on this blog in the context of physical activity / exercise and autism and particularly the ways that said activity could be made more attractive to teens diagnosed on the autism spectrum (see here). Small steps and finding the right activity were some of the routes offered in that previous paper [2].

Before I go I do want to briefly mention one point raised in the latest Stanish paper: "Walking/hiking and active video gaming were among the top activities for both groups." Both groups refers to adolescents with autism (n=35) and those described as typically developing (n=60) who were included for study (although much like the term 'neurotypical' I'm still at a loss as to the precise meaning of 'typically developing'). Walking/hiking... great, really worthwhile encouraging (see here) including exposing people to the great outdoors and that yellow thing usually high in the sky. 'Active videogaming' is something I'm a little less sure of at the moment and indeed, some people have talked about such 'exergaming' as being a poor substitute for the real thing [3]. I don't doubt that one can build up a sweat on something like those new-fangled 'watch my movement' games consoles that abound these days, but might such exergaming just further feed into the 'screen time' narrative that typically accompanies sedentary behaviours?

And of the multiple correlates potentially attached to low levels of physical activity, one might also count bone health [4] among them as being relevant to at least some autism...


[1] Stanish HI. et al. Physical Activity Levels, Frequency, and Type Among Adolescents with and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disorders. 2017. Jan 9.

[2] Stanish H. et al. Enjoyment, Barriers, and Beliefs About Physical Activity in Adolescents With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2015 Oct;32(4):302-17.

[3] Daley AJ. Can Exergaming Contribute to Improving Physical Activity Levels and Health Outcomes in Children? Pediatrics. 2009; 124: 2.

[4] Neumeyer AM. et al. Bone microarchitecture in adolescent boys with autism spectrum disorder. Bone. 2017 Jan 11. pii: S8756-3282(17)30009-1.

---------- Stanish, H., Curtin, C., Must, A., Phillips, S., Maslin, M., & Bandini, L. (2017). Physical Activity Levels, Frequency, and Type Among Adolescents with and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-016-3001-4