Although the CDC recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes per week of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, many adults with disabilities don’t engage in such exercises despite its recommendation; as a result, they are three times more likely to suffer serious health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer than their able-bodied peers.

Fitness and health professionals can facilitate physical activity for those living with disabilities by creating tailored programs. These benefits may include:

Physical Health Benefits

An active lifestyle can play an essential role in maintaining physical health and well-being. Exercise regularly to increase cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and flexibility. Physical activity can assist with weight control and may help manage symptoms associated with chronic illnesses, like arthritis and high blood pressure. Furthermore, exercise can improve self-esteem and mood as well as provide social opportunities and foster interactions between people. People with disabilities face particular obstacles when it comes to exercising regularly. This may be caused by limited access to accessible facilities or fear of injury while exercising; stigma may also stand in their way and the belief that physical activity won’t improve their condition.

This review expands upon 2019 UK CMO physical activity guidelines by including research into disabled children and young people – an area currently absent from these guidance documents. Furthermore, evidence compiled over time suggests substantial health benefits from doing 120 to 180 minutes a week of aerobic physical activity, at least 50% less than what the WHO currently recommends for non-disabled adults.

Weak evidence supports that participating in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (60-80% HRmax) improves muscular outcomes, functional skills and some aspects of disease risk and prevention as well as psychosocial wellbeing and cognition. Unfortunately, no studies examined disability classification or severity outcomes.

Barriers prevent people with disabilities from engaging in enough physical activity, including: an inadequate knowledge of which exercises are suitable for their impairment; having to travel long distances in order to access suitable facilities and equipment; not having a support worker accompany them; lack of confidence in performing an activity safely, as well as concerns over being seen publicly. People who take regular part in group fitness classes tend to engage in more physical activity because the presence of fellow participants serves as a motivating influence.

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Mental Health Benefits

Physical activity has been demonstrated to benefit mental health in general and particularly for people living with disabilities who are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Physical activity can help alleviate such symptoms by building one’s self-esteem, increasing confidence, and helping individuals feel good about themselves.

As newcomers to exercise can often benefit from consulting with a health care provider before beginning any program, speaking to one beforehand is highly advised. They’ll need advice about which forms of physical activity are suitable for their condition and tips on how to safely integrate these activities into daily life. It is also vital that health care providers gain insight into a patient’s or client’s previous history in sports or recreation – for instance if someone with spinal cord injuries was once avid softball or basketball player before being injured it is essential that activities exist that allow participation as often as possible in these activities as possible.

Overall, moderately weak evidence shows that physical activity across impairment groups is associated with improved cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular outcomes and functional skills. It has also been associated with certain aspects of disease risk and prevention as well as psychosocial wellbeing and community health benefits. This foundation of evidence serves as a firm platform for future work on this front as it allows researchers to enhance existing literature quality as well as create tailored physical activity recommendations tailored specifically for various disability groups.

Barriers to physical activity may come in the form of individual and environmental challenges. Individual barriers include lack of knowledge regarding benefits gained from being active, how an activity should be carried out and where facilities offering accessible programs can be found; while environmental obstacles include built environments such as indoor/outdoor structures that are difficult to negotiate or don’t accommodate people with disabilities (24).

Health care professionals face an important challenge: increasing the participation of disabled people. To do this effectively, they should encourage them to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and suggest they create an individualized plan for incorporating physical activity into their lives – including an assessment of current physical activity levels as well as discussion of potential recreational and fitness options such as adapted sports, walking/running/jogging/cycling options that they might enjoy such as dance classes circuit training tumbling progressive resistance training VR/exergaming etc.

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Social Benefits

Exercise provides numerous health and mental well-being advantages, from reduced risks of chronic health conditions and improved overall well-being to stress relief, confidence boosting and sleep quality enhancement. Exercise also can reduce depression risk while improving self-esteem and social interactions – benefits which all individuals participating in regular physical activity will see first hand; but those living with disabilities in particular often face additional barriers that prevent them from engaging in regular physical activity and reap its many rewards.

While most barriers to physical activity aren’t insurmountable, they still pose significant obstacles that must be addressed by policymakers and other stakeholders. Accessibility remains an issue; disabled individuals need access to safe spaces to participate in physical activities. There can also be social stigmas that limit participation. To reduce such challenges and foster physical activity for better health and well-being.

Disabled children and young people tend to be less active than their non-disabled peers, with this gap widening as they age. Research indicates that this inactivity can cause numerous health issues; therefore it’s imperative that participation rates for disabled youth increase to improve wellbeing. Unfortunately, however, evidence regarding physical activity for disabled children and youth remains relatively small and few high-quality studies have been conducted in this area.

Therefore, it is difficult to provide recommendations based on scientific evidence that are comparable with the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines (PDF, 2MB) for adults, which suggest typically inactive individuals aim for at least 30 minutes of mostly aerobic physical activity five or more times each week for at least five days out of seven. Achieve these targets should improve cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular outcomes in adults while there has not yet been evidence-based guidance regarding safe progression towards these levels of activity for disabled children and young people with various impairments.

The present rapid review was undertaken in response to requests for evidence-based guidance from disabled children and young people, their parents/carers/healthcare/sport organizations as well as healthcare/sport organizations. A framework based on Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses was used and was informed by methodology from an earlier study examining physical activity and health in disabled adults (PDF 94KB).

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Finding accessible exercise options can be a difficult challenge for individuals with disabilities. There may be various barriers preventing people with disabilities from engaging in physical activity, including limited availability of equipment or lack of awareness of community-based resources. These issues prevent individuals from reaping the many health benefits that accompany physical fitness such as improved weight management, cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and balance benefits associated with fitness activities.

Individuals living with disabilities often lack knowledge about the advantages and methods for participating in physical activity, as well as its various forms. Many may not realize that specific forms of exercise may improve health while managing symptoms associated with their condition such as pain, fatigue and depression.

Even if individuals with disabilities are aware of accessible exercise spaces like community centers and walking paths, they may feel disempowered entering these environments due to fear of falling or not understanding a fitness instructor’s instructions. This can result in feelings of exclusion.

Individuals with disabilities frequently face both social and personal obstacles to exercise, including lack of support from family and friends, worries about being judged for their disability, or feeling unsafe participating in physical activities. Unfortunately, in many instances these barriers remain insurmountable resulting in reduced levels of activity among disabled adults.

However, disabled adults can overcome barriers to physical activity participation by tailoring recommendations specifically to each person’s impairment and identifying community resources that meet that need. This approach may prove particularly helpful for health care providers such as physicians and nurses in encouraging patients or clients to become more active; future health promotion programs that target specific populations must consider this advice as part of their planning processes.