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Exercising with Disabilities

Edited By: Quaratulain Ahsan Khan


Background

There are more than one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population that live with some form of disability (1). The most commonly accepted definition of disability is by the World Health Organization which states that: “Disability is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations” (2). A major health concern is lack of exercise worldwide; however, people with disabilities are at a greater risk of the health problems associated with physical inactivity (3). Although everyone needs physical activity for good health, many people with disabilities face significant barriers to participating in physical activity (4).


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Barriers to physical activity for people with disabilities

While not everyone goes through the same difficulties, there are some obstacles that exist every day. Exercising usually requires different elements such as endurance, coordination, balance and strength that we often take for granted. Personal and environmental barriers associated with disability can also restrict access to physical activity services (4). A known environmental barrier is that a number of gyms do not set up the right amenities/accessible spaces to accomodate people with disabilities (5). Additionally, lack of transportation, costs of programs and equipment, unqualified staff who do not adjust classes to include people with disabilities and discriminatory behaviours are some ways that reduce accessibility to exercise (6). Some social barriers such as stigmas around people with disabilities contribute to feeling excluded from the fitness world (5). These substantial obstacles can easily discourage people from exercising. Some personal barriers can include pain, being self-conscious about exercising publicly and lack of energy (3). Finding ways to break those barriers are essential to make physical activity more accessible to all. As a society, it is necessary that we advocate for an inclusive approach to attend to the needs of people with disabilities.

Promoting Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Physical Activity Initiatives

A paper published by the Lancet highlighted great ways to make exercising more available to individuals with disabilities. For instance, they mentioned that when it comes to local and national physical activity initiatives, already existing local disability associations should be invited to collaborate (4). They also added that communities should take initiative to identify where people with disabilities live as well as the support services needed to ensure they can participate (4). Another important point is that all sectors of public health such as healthcare facilities, workplaces and schools should represent the needs of everyone including children and adults with disabilities (4).


https://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/illustration/group-of-people-with-different-disabilities-royalty-free-illustration/1084299952

Ways to Increase Physical Activity for People with Disabilities It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all solution. An exercise that may be suitable for one person with a certain impairment, may not be for another (8). Before engaging in a type of physical activity, make sure to consult a healthcare professional to understand how you can safely exercise with your disability (8).

  • Being Active Outdoors

  • Spending time outside can not only improve your physical health, but also help with your mental health and general well-being (8). To stay active, walking can be a great form of physical activity for people with disabilities who are able to walk or use devices such as walkers or wheelchairs (9). Among active adults with a mobility disability, walking is the most reported form of exercise (10).

  • Being Active at Home

  • There are multiple ways to stay active at home. Using free resources such as Youtube Videos can help with motivation and ensure you’re doing the right movements.

  • The CDC suggested a great resource from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD). This website provides different resources such as this free 14 weeks to a Healthier You with a personalized web-based physical activity program for individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions (8).

  • They also suggested this challenge by the Special Olympics that includes fitness videos and information with a variety of exercises targeting flexibility, endurance and strength (8).

  • Activity Alliance is a UK organization with useful exercise advice and guides to exercise at home and elsewhere.

  • Finding Support

  • Doing activities with friends can help when you’re trying something new and can help motivate others to continue working their your goals (11).

https://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/photo/push-yourself-royalty-free-image/1196025325


Summary

  • There are more than one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population that live with some form of disability

  • Although everyone needs physical activity for good health, many people with disabilities face significant barriers to participating in physical activity

  • Some barriers such as lack of transportation, costs of programs and equipment, unqualified staff who do not adjust classes to include people with disabilities and discriminatory behaviours are some ways that reduce accessibility to exercise (6). Stigma around people with disabilities also contribute to feeling excluded from the fitness world

  • As a society, it is necessary that we advocate for an inclusive approach to attend to the needs of people with disabilities.

  • Ways to exercise

  • Among active adults with mobility disability, walking is the most reported form of exercise

  • The CDC suggested a great resource from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD). This website provides different resources such as this free 14 weeks to a Healthier You with a personalized web-based physical activity program for individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions

  • Activity Alliance is a UK organization with lots of useful exercise advice and guides to exercise at home and elsewhere.

There are more than one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population that live with some form of disability

References 

  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Disability and health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/disability-and-health. 

  2. Canada, E. and S. D. (2013, August 5). Government of Canada. Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/disability/arc/reference-guide.html. 

  3. Rimmer, J. H., Schiller, W., & Chen, M.-D. (2012). Effects of Disability-Associated Low Energy Expenditure Deconditioning Syndrome. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 40(1), 22–29. https://doi.org/10.1097/jes.0b013e31823b8b82

  4. Rimmer, J. H., & Marques, A. C. (2012). Physical activity for people with disabilities. The Lancet, 380(9838), 193–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(12)61028-9

  5. Brooks, T. (2018, July 10). Physical exercise for the disabled: Barriers and benefits. Sports Clothing, Fitness Clothing and Sports Equipment! https://www.sports-fitness.co.uk/blog/physical-exercise-for-the-disabled. 

  6. Rimmer, J. H., Riley, B., Wang, E., Rauworth, A., & Jurkowski, J. (2004). Physical activity participation among persons with disabilities. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 26(5), 419–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2004.02.002

  7. Brooks, T. (2018, July 10). Physical exercise for the disabled: Barriers and benefits. Sports Clothing, Fitness Clothing and Sports Equipment! https://www.sports-fitness.co.uk/blog/physical-exercise-for-the-disabled. 

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 16). Physical activity for people with disability. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/features/physical-activity-for-all.html. 

  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015. Step it up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, Washington, DC. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/walking/call-to-action/index.htm.

  10. Hollis, N. D., Zhang, Q. C., Cyrus, A. C., Courtney-Long, E., Watson, K., & Carroll, D. D. (2020). Physical activity types among US adults with mobility disability, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2017. Disability and Health Journal, 13(3), 100888. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2020.100888

  11. Stay active with a disability: Quick tips. Stay Active with a Disability: Quick tips - MyHealthfinder. (n.d.). https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/health-conditions/obesity/stay-active-disability-quick-tips. 


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