Using the Web to Promote Physical Activity for Everybody!



Man in wheelchair exercising with tension bandsThere is a critical need to increase participation in physical activity for everyone, this we already know.  Unfortunately, many physical activity programs are not designed in a way that includes people with disabilities.  Recognizing the need for inclusive programming and the common barriers to physical activity for people with disabilities (cost, transportation, don’t know where/how to exercise, inaccessible facilities, lack of knowledgeable staff) the staff at the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) knew it was time to put their heads together to come up with something creative, something that hadn’t been tried before. 

It quickly became clear that the internet is a growing platform for delivering health promotion programs that can tackle many of the barriers faced by people with disabilities and reach large numbers of people.  The existing web-based programs, though, didn’t seem to be providing modifications to allow people with a variety of different abilities to be able to participate.  This was NCPAD’s niche!  After much discussion and research, the 14-Week Program to a Healthier You was born; an inclusive web-based program that uses three stages of progression to promote physical activity (that can be done anywhere, without specialized equipment) and healthy eating for people of all abilities.

We had learned that, in general, the more a web-based program is tailored and interactive, the better the results.  Understanding that one of our greatest challenges was going to be providing resources and exercises that fit the needs of each participant regardless of individual fitness level, exercise experience, and type of impairment, we knew that the opportunity for individualized interaction was crucial. 

With these things in mind, the features of the program were developed. They include:

  • Communication with NCPAD’s 14-Week Coaches via live chat, toll-free hotline, and/or e-mail
  • SMS (text) option
  • Commitment pledge
  • Goal, physical activity, and dietary intake logs
  • Weekly e-mails
  • Weekly updates to the website, including:
    • Motivational note from the coaches
    • Resources on physical activity and nutrition
    • Strength, flexibility, and balance exercises (step-by-step instructions included written description, pictures, videos,  and modifications)
    • Aerobic exercise videos and suggestions (a sample video can be viewed at
    • Advice on frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activity
    • Video blog of one participant’s experience with the program
  • Follow-up wellness coaching with one of the 14-Week Coaches after the 14 weeks had ended

The results, so far, have been fantastic!  Interest in the program far-surpassed what we ever dreamed possible, with 3,500 people registering in 2010.  Although we have yet to do a detailed evaluation of the program, preliminary review shows that people of all abilities increased their levels of physical activity, enjoyed the program, and would highly recommend it to others in their social circle!  We are excited to run the program next spring and work in new ideas to continue to assist individuals of all abilities in becoming more physically active!


How are you creatively promoting physical activity for people of all abilities?