Inactivity a Major Issue for Adults with Disabilities

Disabilities often tied to inactivity and chronic disease but physical activity can help

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Staying physically active is important for everyone, even for adults who cope with disabilities. And a new report suggests that many of these adults aren't getting enough activity.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around half of adults with a disability did not get any physical activity.

The report suggests that this lack of physical activity may contribute to an increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

"Talk to your doctor about exercise methods likely to work best for you."

In its report, CDC looked at adults in the US with a disability, which can involve a variety of issues, including problems with mobility, cognition, hearing or vision.

"These are adults with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; hearing; seeing; or concentrating, remembering, or making decisions," explained CDC, who noted that this includes over 21 million people in the US between the ages of 18 and 64.

The report noted that even though most of these adults are able to participate in some sort of aerobic physical activity — the type of activity that makes the heart start to beat faster and breathing a bit more difficult — an estimated 47 percent get no such activity at all, and 22 percent get some activity, but not enough.

"Physical activity benefits all adults, whether or not they have a disability, by reducing their risk of serious chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers," explained CDC.

CDC found that adults with disabilities were three times more likely than people without disabilities to have one of these chronic diseases. Furthermore, adults with disabilities who were not active were 50 percent more likely to have one of these chronic diseases than adults with disabilities who did get aerobic physical activity.

Luckily, it seems that a doctor's recommendation may help, as the report found that these adults were 82 percent more likely to get physical activity if their doctor recommended it to them.

CDC urged doctors to speak with their patients with disabilities about physical activity, and to stress the importance of at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week.

Depending on the patient, these activities may include brisk walking, wheeling oneself in a wheelchair, swimming laps, water aerobics or using a hand-crank bicycle.

"Doctors and other health professionals can recommend aerobic physical activity options that match each person’s specific abilities and connect him or her to resources that can help each person be physically active," said CDC.

In an interview with dailyRx News, Steve Gnatz, MD, director of the division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago, said that he was not surprised by the low activity levels found in the CDC's report.

"I see patients every day with disabilities that do not get enough exercise," said Dr. Gnatz, who works with people with a wide range of disabilities.

Dr. Gnatz explained that a lot of these patients also have other concurrent medical problems, including a history of stroke and obesity, that make exercise difficult.

"These patients need to stay active, and oftentimes we have to innovate and find better ways for them to stay active," said Dr. Gnatz.

Dr. Gnatz noted that there are resources out there for these patients, as CDC suggested, and that there are some signs that these resources are expanding and improving.

"There are groups specifically looking at making sure people with disabilities get more physical activity, like Adaptive Adventures in Chicago," said Dr. Gnatz. "Exercise courses that are being put in by cities often have stations that are more amenable to someone sitting in a wheelchair, and I think that is a good trend.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, America was worried mainly about accessibility — how do you get on the bus, how do you get into the grocery store — but now a lot of that infrastructure is there and the next focus is: How do we keep people with disabilities healthy?" said Dr. Gnatz.

The report was published in the May issue of CDC's Vital Signs. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
May 8, 2014
Last Updated:
May 9, 2014