Our Exercise Program: Benefits Beyond Health

Our Exercise Program: Benefits Beyond Health
Posted on 05/20/2018
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The Impact of Vigorous Exercise on Behavior Problems, Academic Engagement, and Sleep among Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The “PE study” initiative was designed to measure the effectiveness of the Boston Higashi School exercise program. Our school prides itself on this program, which meets recommendations proposed by the Center for Disease Control for establishing and maintaining strong physical health. There is a significant need for programs like ours, because individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders are at increased risk for physical health issues, such as Type- II Diabetes, Obesity, and heart conditions, because they engage in exercise less frequently than their typically developing peers. Many researchers attribute this to difficulties associated with their disorders, such as social communication deficits and restricted, repetitive behaviors.

However, evidence exists to suggest that exercise can reverse effects of the disorder by improving sleep, reducing anxiety and problematic behaviors, and increasing attention. Grounded in this belief, BHS conducted the research study with Dr. Ashley Woodman, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Dr. Miriam Evans, of EdTogether, Inc., and Ms. Becky Goldman from Boston Children's Hospital.

This study involved twenty-one students from the Junior High division at BHS and took place in July and August of 2016. We collected an enormous amount of data on exercise intensity, behavior, academic engagement, and sleep. We utilized gold-standard measures to collect our data, such as the Omron HJA-750C tri-axial accelerometer and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale-Version 2.

The results showed:

1) The participants appear to tolerate the devices

2) Exercise intensity and sleep patterns are highly variable across students


3) Impact of vigorous exercise:

  • Decreases the number of problematic behaviors students display throughout the school day
  • Increases students' ability to focus on academic tasks
  • Decreases sleep interruptions (the same day)

The results on behavior problems and academic engagement were presented in the poster session at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR, Formerly INFAR) in Rotterdam, Netherland from May 9th to May 12th, 2018.

View the study poster here