Many individuals with disabilities are doubly challenged: they adapt their lives to accommodate a disability while simultaneously suffering from secondary maladies brought on by a lack of physical exercise.
Nearly 50 percent of adults with a disability are not physically active, compared with just 25 percent of sedentary adults with no disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A sedentary lifestyle puts the disabled population at serious risk of disease. One CDC study found that disabled adults who “get no aerobic physical activity” are three times more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, stroke or heart disease than adults without disabilities. In addition to disease avoidance, regular exercise has also been shown to elevate mood and promote a sense of well-being.
Persons with disabilities often do not have sufficient opportunities to engage in physical exercise, and many encounter accessibility barriers at public parks and private health clubs. Developing healthy eating habits is also a challenge for individuals with disabilities.
One possible solution is “I CAN Do It!” (ICDI), a health improvement initiative developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
ICDI seeks to promote physical fitness by fostering mentor-mentee relationships and health-related goal-setting. ICDI can be customized to fit each individual’s personal circumstances, and can be adapted for use by K-12 schools, colleges, universities and community-based organizations.
Using educational materials provided by ICDI, a volunteer mentor and mentee with disabilities work together to improve the mentee’s fitness level via an eight-week exercise and nutrition program. The mentor is responsible for:
- meeting with the mentee weekly to establish goals and assess progress;
- helping the mentee engage in physical activity at least once weekly;
- teaching healthy behaviors;
- supporting the mentee’s effort to reach fitness goals; and
- celebrating the mentee’s success.
For individuals with disabilities, participation in ICDI offers the chance to make new friends, build better exercise and eating habits, and have fun engaging in challenging physical activities.
Materials provided by the ICDI program teach community center and health club operators how to maintain accessible exercise facilities; educate people with disabilities and community leaders on healthy eating habits and behaviors; and train volunteer mentors how to inspire individuals with disabilities to set and achieve personal physical activity and healthy eating goals.