Reflecting on the Big Picture of Physical Activity and Disability



In the spirit of the New Year, let’s reflect on physical activity and get back to basics regarding individuals with a disability. At the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), we believe that everyone can benefit from regular physical activity. Our mission is to encourage and support individuals with disabilities and chronic health conditions to become more physically active. The NCHPAD website has a wealth of information to help individuals with a disability find ways to incorporate fitness-related physical activity. Start in the Exercise and Fitness category, with programs such as 14 Weeks to a Healthier You! or Champion’s Rx, and read Get the Facts on physical activity. Get the Facts will help individuals with a disability become more physically active and equip health and fitness professionals with the knowledge to provide a more enriching physical activity program for all.

There are currently over 56 million people with a disability in the world; and a striking 58 percent of those individuals are considered obese, leading to annual health care costs of approximately $400 billion. Physical activity can play a leading role in improving and maintaining overall health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) provide science-based guidance to help individuals ages six and older, including those with a disability, achieve health benefits through physical activity. These benefits are especially important for individuals with a disability, as research shows they lead less active lives than those without a disability. Service providers should encourage individuals with a disability to take these preliminary steps to being physically active: Inform a physician about consideration to start an exercise program.

  1. Participate in a graded exercise test to determine current fitness level.
  2. Find out the effects, if any, of medications and exercise.
  3. Consult a trained exercise professional for an individualized exercise prescription.
  4. Determine SMART goals.

Once preliminary steps are taken, it is time to get moving! In the NCHPAD Physical Activity Pyramid, everything counts! NCHPAD recognizes four categories of physical activity: fitness related physical activity, leisure physical activity, task-oriented physical activity, and residual movement. Each category contributes towards physical activity as a whole.

Encourage physical activity in the winter months with the help of these resources and tips:

  • Exercise is not a “one size fits all” approach: Encourage individuals to pick a program that fits their needs and preferences. Those who prefer a social atmosphere might want to try a group fitness class such as Zumba, Krank (upper body cycling), or spinning. Those who love sports might want to try a winter sport such as skiing or sled hockey. Some individuals might be interested in personal training sessions at a local gym or using an exercise DVD or active video game from home.
  • Opt for indoor physical activity: Mall walking is becoming an increasingly popular activity. A mall is a great place to walk because it is protected from the weather; is safe with good lighting; and has flat and wide walking surfaces and elevators for changing floors, convenient restrooms, and plenty of benches and seating for breaks. While mall walking provides a safe and convenient place to be active for most, the lights, people and store paraphernalia might be over-stimulating to some. Noise-cancelling headphones, an exercise buddy, or sunglasses might help control overstimulation.
  • Get set up for success: Wear appropriate clothing and layers when temperatures are colder; drink plenty of fluids, especially water; allow for a longer warm-up time to let the body adjust; and consider how the timing of exercise impacts secondary conditions such as fatigue or pain.

Reflecting and refocusing on the basics might just be the momentum someone needs to tackle that healthy lifestyle goal in the New Year!

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