First evidence review of physical activity among disabled adults

New nationally developed resources to support disabled adults to get more physically active were launched at the International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress (ISPAH) in London. These include a first evidence review published by Public Health England and a new UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) infographic to make physical activity recommendations more accessible and support disabled people.

  • Four in five disabled people report they would like to do more physical activity[i]
  • Yet, disabled adults are twice as likely to be inactive than non-disabled adults, with potentially around 3.5 million disabled adults at greater risk of poor health due to inactivity [ii]
  • New resources support disabled adults to get active to improve their health and make physical activity recommendations more accessible

There are 11.5 million disabled people in England and nearly half (42%) are inactive[1]per week compared to 21% of non-disabled people; a two-fold difference. However, four in five disabled people report they would like to do more physical activity, highlighting continued barriers that prevent them from being active.

Concern around safety is often cited as a major barrier to disabled people undertaking physical activity, but the review has shown that when performed at an appropriate level and intensity, this should not hinder them being more active and will lead to health benefits.

The UK is at the forefront of action to address these inequalities with new nationally developed resources to help disabled adults get more physically active being launched at the International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress (ISPAH) in London today.

These include:

  • a world first evidence review published by Public Health England (PHE) that highlights a critical need for disabled adults to do more physical activity to improve their health; and
  • a new UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) infographic to make physical activity recommendations more accessible and support disabled people in getting more active.

These works consider the breadth of impairments, covering long term physical, sensory, cognitive, and/or mental health impairments, something never done before in the UK.

They have been developed to address psychological barriers which play the biggest role in preventing disabled people from taking part in physical activity, including the attitudes and perceptions of disabled people and non-disabled people that activity might be unsafe or worsen their impairment.

While national physical activity guidelines are currently produced for the whole population, the new evidence shows there is no risk for disabled people undertaking physical activity.

It is recommended that disabled people build up physical activity, concentrating first on frequency, then duration, before finally raising the intensity level. This is especially significant for those that are not active at all and those with other existing health conditions.

The review shows that being more active will improve their health, including improved fitness, muscle strength, undertaking of everyday tasks (e.g. housework and gardening), wellbeing, and sense of community, as well as reduced risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Launching PHE’s evidence review at the ISPAH Congress, Duncan Selbie, PHE chief executive, said:

“Moving more is important for everyone and we must better support people who face barriers to being active. We can all find something that suits our needs and abilities from walking, to playing ball games, or joining a gym.”

Alongside the evidence review, the existing UK CMOs’ physical activity guidelines have been made more inclusive of disabled people. An infographic for healthcare professionals and disabled people has been produced that better highlights the benefits and practical steps to getting active to improve health.

The infographic has been developed in collaboration with 350 disabled people, 10 disability organisations and 50 healthcare professionals and is endorsed by the four UK CMOs.

Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: 

“Being active is good for our health – both physical and mental. It is important that disabled people in the UK do not miss out on the benefits that being active can bring. I hope that the new infographic, designed by disabled people for disabled people, will help more people reap the benefits of physical activity in a safe and healthy way.”

ISPAH is co-hosted by PHE and Sport England and co-sponsored by the European network for the promotion of health enhancing physical activity (HEPA Europe) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It aims to bring the best international minds together to bridge the gap between physical activity research, policy and practice to tackle health inequalities and support healthier nations across the world.

 Visit PHE’s website on www.gov.uk/phe.

The PHE evidence review will be available on PHE’s website

  1. The findings have already been adopted as part of the UK Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) national physical activity guidelines. The 2019 guidelines will support disabled adults to be more physically active to improve their health.
  2. The majority of disabled people (83%) acquire impairment during their lives, which is why these resources focus on adults.
  3. The majority of impairments are not visible, for example Sport England’s Mapping Disability: The Facts reports that fewer than 1 in 10 (5–7%) of disabled people are in a wheelchair.
  4. Physical inactivity is in the top ten greatest causes of ill health nationally, with negative impacts on physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development, and economic development for individuals and communities.

[1] Inactivity refers to people doing less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

[i] The Activity Trap, Activity Alliance, published 8 October 2018, http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/how-we-help/research/the-activity-trap

[ii] Active Lives Adult Survey May 17/18 report, Sport England, published 11 October 2018, https://www.sportengland.org/media/13558/active-lives-adult-may-2017-18-report.pdf

 

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