Physical Activity for People With Disabilities
The benefits of physical activity for people with disabilities have been studied in diverse groups. These groups include stroke victims, people with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, limb amputations, mental illness, intellectual disability, and dementia.
Overall, the evidence shows that regular physical activity provides important health benefits for people with disabilities. The benefits include improved cardiovascular and muscle fitness, improved mental health, and better ability to do tasks of daily life. Sufficient evidence now exists to recommend that adults with disabilities should get regular physical activity.
Key Guidelines for Adults With Disabilities
- Adults with disabilities, who are able to, should get at least 150 minutes per week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
- Adults with disabilities, who are able to, should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or high intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days per week as these activities provide additional health benefits.
- When adults with disabilities are not able to meet the above Guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity.
- Adults with disabilities should consult their health-care providers about the amounts and types of physical activity that are appropriate for their abilities.
In consultation with their health-care providers, people with disabilities should understand how their disabilities affect their ability to do physical activity. Some may be capable of doing medium to high amounts of physical activity, and they should essentially follow the Guidelines for adults.
Some people with disabilities are not able to follow the Guidelines for adults. These people should adapt their physical activity program to match their abilities, in consultation with their health-care providers. Studies show that physical activity can be done safely when the program is matched to an individual’s abilities.
Meeting the Guidelines
People with disabilities are encouraged to get advice from professionals with experience in physical activity and disability because matching activity to abilities can require modifying physical activity in many different ways. Some people with disabilities also need help with their exercise program. For example, some people may need supervision when performing muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights.