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Kelly Bonner, inclusion specialist with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability who has spent 17 years working with people with disabilities, weighed in on challenges facing people with disabilities and physical exercise, via an email interview with Colorado Community Media.
The center was founded in 1999, as a resource center on health promotion for people with disabilities. The organization seeks to “help people with disability and other chronic health conditions achieve health benefits through increased participation in all types of physical and social activities…” The NCHPAD has numerous free resources and free online workout programs at www.nchpad.org/14weeks.
Do disabilities cause obesity?
Certainly disability and health can coexist. There are plenty of people with a disability who are in great shape. But a disability can predispose someone to secondary health conditions such as obesity for a number of reasons.
Can people with disabilities exercise safely?
In general, it is always wise to get medical clearance before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have any concerns. That being said, YES. People with a disability certainly can exercise safely and they will probably find that exercise helps them in many facts of their life, from performing their activities of daily living, to transferring, to better sleep.
Is exercise/activity usually factored into their care plans?
Care plans for people with a disability vary greatly across the U.S., as well as with different disability types. Many people with a disability do not have a specific care plan and are not told how they can be active after acquiring their disability. Often I think doctors are so rushed in their patient interactions that they are focused on treatment or current issues ... (and) rarely have time to address preventive measures like physical activity.
What are the biggest barriers to exercise in people with disabilities?
There are a number of barriers to physical activity for people with a disability. For many, they don’t know how or where to exercise. Many fitness centers aren’t equipped or knowledgeable enough to work with these individuals. Access is also a problem. People with a disability need access to the facility by not only providing an accessible building and parking area, but once they get inside they need access to the fitness equipment by providing more space between equipment, cardio machines geared toward upper body movement and a list of other things.
But surprisingly, research shows that one of the biggest barriers to physical activity for people with a disability is attitude.
Staff members questioning why they are there or not knowing how to effectively communicate with them or meet their needs is a quick turn-off.
• Obesity rates for adults with disabilities are approximately 57 percent higher than among adults without disabilities, which means about 36 percent of adults with disabilities are obese, compared with 23 percent of adults without disabilities.
• In children with disabilities, obesity rates are approximately 38 percent higher than for children without disabilities, or 22 percent of children with disabilities are obese, compared to 16 percent of children without disabilities.
Source: Centers for Disease Control National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Benefits of physical activity for people with disabilities include:
• Improved cardiovascular fitness
• Improved muscle fitness
• Improved mental health
• A better ability to do tasks of daily life
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Here are some of the facilities in the Denver area that provide physical fitness classes and activities for people with disabilities.
• Metropolitan State University of Denver offers a variety of adaptive fitness programs that provide a safe, fun workout for people with disabilities. Classes are held at the Auraria Campus, 1198 11th St., Denver; more information: msudenver.edu/campusrec/adaptivefitness/
• Denver Parks and Recreation has several programs and classes for people of all ages with disabilities of all ages. Programs are held throughout the Denver area; more information: www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/denver-parks-and-recreation/activities-programs/adaptive-recreation.html
• The Thrive Center is a community resource center that provides parents with information on adaptive fitness programs at several locations along the Front Range for parents of children with disabilities; more information: www.thrivectr.org/disability-recreation-resources/
• RISE Movement Solutions, 750 West Hampden, Suite 200, Englewood, offers medical fitness classes to help people with disabilities, injuries or recently diagnosed conditions; more information: www.facebook.com/TheMSGym/
• Pure Barre Fitness, 5375 Landmark Place, Suite 109, Greenwood Village, hosts workout classes for adults with disabilities through the Barre Stars program; more information: http://purebarre.com/co-denver-greenwoodvillage/
The energy at Pure Barre fitness was running high. Thumping music, grunts of exertion and the smell of sweat filled the air as fitness specialist Briget Russomanno led the workout class.
“You can do it,” she said to the class. “Just one more set, let’s keep going!”
Groans of protest were mixed with smiles of joy, as she eventually wrapped up the class with a cool-down session.
“Wow. This is my new place. I’m coming here again,” said Casey Gunning, 34, who has Down syndrome and attended the exercise class at 5375 Landmark Place in Greenwood Village for the first time.
Every client in the class had a disability of some sort, some mental and some physical. Pure Barre is one of the few places in the Denver metro area that offers workout classes for people with disabilities. Owners Briget and Scott Russomanno launched Barre Stars in early 2018 to help combat adult obesity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36 percent of adults with disabilities are obese, versus 23 percent of adults without disabilities. Obesity can lead to various other health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.
The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability says that the 50 million-plus Americans with disabilities, who are at greater risk for developing health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, are getting even less physical activity because of the numerous barriers they face in becoming physically active.
“For many, they don’t know how or where to exercise,” said Kelly Bonner, an inclusion specialist with NCHPD. “Marketing material is not focused on this minority group, and to be honest, many fitness centers aren’t equipped to work with these individuals so they don’t know where to go that can create a plan that is appropriate for them.”
The CDC also recommends that people with disabilities get regular physical activity. But historically, there have been few facilities to meet their needs, as well as various other factors that prevent healthy activity.
“So few programs exist that offer safe and effective fitness programming in a way that educates and adapts to the specific needs of these individuals,” said Scott Russomanno. “Parents and caretakers are left to face this challenge alone without a community equipped to serve the health and fitness needs of their children.”
Russomanno said attitude plays a big part in a successful fitness plan, and that people with special needs are often told they can’t do certain things.
“They’re either told they can’t, or assume they can’t be active,” he said. “The truth is, everyone can do a little something that’s good for them, and we are here to help them achieve what they can.”
Trevor Wicken and his wife Misty, owners of RISE Movement Solutions in Englewood, have spent more than 10 years helping people stay physically active after becoming disabled or being diagnosed with a life-long condition, such as multiple sclerosis. According to Wicken, many people who are diagnosed with a disorder or receive an injury are prescribed a period of physical therapy that is helpful, but doesn’t foster an attitude of staying healthy after receiving a diagnosis. A regular fitness plan that fits into the new “normal” of their lives is seldom addressed by physicians.
“A lot of times when they come to us, they’ve been told that nothing else can be done,” said Trevor Wicken, who began the medical fitness training practice in 2004, and started the MS gym, an online Facebook page that has gained 11,000 followers in less than a year.
Wicken said his goal is to bridge the gap between medical and fitness needs, and figure out the next steps after physical therapy. He works with clients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, osteoarthritis and brain injuries, and said attitude and accessibility are two barriers to fitness for those who have a disability or an injury.
“General fitness plans don’t work for people with disabilities. They try to work out and get hurt, or never feel better or get better,” said Wicken. “Or they’re told they’re broken and just fall into a pattern of unhealthy habits. We’re intensely passionate about helping them feel better, because they are more than their disease.”
Training sessions, such as those Wicken offers, are not always covered by insurance and are seldom promoted by health-care professionals. While Wicken does not accept insurance, clients can submit claims to their insurance providers for possible reimbursement.
For those who attended the class at Pure Barre, getting physical was not only good for them, but they had a good time doing it.
Dana Stehno, of Englewood, brought her 17-year-old son Luke to the workout class, and said it was a great experience and she hopes he will continue to attend.
“He never really wants to do anything like this. He’s apprehensive and not sure he can do what everybody else does,” Stehno said. “This is a non-intimidating environment and we’ll be back. He’s definitely going to walk out of here with a smile on his face.”
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