Physical activity benefits adults with disabilities

Most adults with disabilities get no physical activity which may lead to chronic disease.

A speaker I once heard at a Michigan State University Extension conference referred to physical disabilities as “the only demographic that will happen to everyone, and people can enter and exit along the life span.” That led me to wonder how we define physical disabilities. By the speaker’s definition, they go beyond what we may observe in a person. She used these two statements from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to define disability:

  • Are you limited in any activities because of physical, mental or emotional problems?
  • Do you now have any health problem that requires you to use special equipment, such as a cane, wheelchair, special bed or a special telephone?

Disabilities may put people at higher risk for developing serious chronic illnesses. People with disabilities are three times more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than people without disabilities. Some of these conditions may be avoided or delayed if people participate in aerobic physical activity. Unfortunately, nearly half of the adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vitalsigns, over half of the adults who have mobility limitations participate in no aerobic physical activity at all.

Regular physical activity has great benefits for all adults. It increases heart and lung function, strengthens muscles, improves our ability to handle daily living tasks, helps to keep us independent, decreases our chances of developing chronic disease and it also benefits our mental health.

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults, with or without physical disability, should get 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours per week of physical activity. This may sound daunting, but it can be broken down into manageable segments. For example 150 minutes a week is a little more than 20 minutes a day. If 20 minutes at a time is too much at first, consider breaking it down into two, 10 minute segments.

Muscle-strengthening activities provide additional health benefits, including supporting bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. If possible, adults with disabilities should include muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on at least two days per week.

Adults with disabilities who are interested in becoming involved with physical activity can start by talking with their doctors about what kind of physical activity and how much is right for them. They can find ways to include physical activities that work for them, based on their abilities. All adults who are not currently involved with physical activity should talk with their doctors before starting, and should start slowly. It may feel overwhelming at first, but if you start slowly, gradually increasing the amount of time you spend on physical activity, you’ll soon find a level that’s comfortable for you and you’ll feel better for it.

Adults with disabilities can benefit from physical activity, both physically and emotionally. Why not start today?

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