Double S Instructional Systems

Promoting Healthy Lifestyle Choices for People with Developmental Disabilities

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Make Exercise Fun

There is growing concern about the health of individuals with developmental disabilities (DD). The move for individuals with DD from institutional to community settings has increased their opportunities for self-determination and provided a less restrictive environment. However, knowledge, motivation, and efficacy to engage in a healthy lifestyle tend to be low in both individuals who have DD and their care providers.  Community and residential living arrangements often make choosing a healthy diet and participating in physical activity difficult. Studies show that caregivers of adults who have DD frequently lack information and support in limiting access to unhealthy foods and encouraging healthy activity patterns. Financial and transportation issues also make it difficult for individuals with DD to participate in community-based physical activity programs.  As a result, individuals who have DD often have poor energy dense diets and tend to be inactive; they experience rates of obesity greater than the general population which contributes to a high prevalence of health related problems, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.  There is a compelling need for healthy lifestyle programs targeted to the specific context and learning needs of this population.

One of the most effective ways to increase the activity level of individuals with DD is to help them engage in fun physical activities. When exercise is fun the chances of continued participation rises. The basic idea is to focus on an activity or sport that the person enjoys doing and comes easily to him or her. A good place to start is to make an inventory with the person with DD of what physical fun activities they like to do or activities the might like to do. Brainstorm with the person. They may not be able to do a physical activity but may want to learn to do it.

Here is a short list of ideas to get the list flowing: walking a dog, swimming, Frisbee, softball, gymnastics, sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, jogging, soccer, karate, bird watching, volleyball, yoga, walking or hiking, dancing, bike riding, weight training, skating, canoeing, horseback riding, bowling, miniature golf, ping pong, tennis, using exercise machines, rock climbing, and going on outings that include walking to get there.

After you make a list, pick the top two or three and see if they are available in your community – check Public facilities like parks and rec; look at Community groups like YMCA, Special Olympics, Arc, church groups: Commercial businesses like health and fitness clubs, martial arts academies, bowling alleys; Schools like community colleges and adult education classes.

Now gather the information about the fun physical activities you have chosen together – where is that activity located? At what time? How do I get there? How much does it cost? What do I wear? Can I bring someone along for support?

And finally find ways to make it happen. What are the problems with doing this activity? Brainstorm possible solutions. Pick the best solution. And then try it to see if it works.

Good luck and remember above all – Have Fun!

Our primary interest is in sharing information that will help people with developmental disabilities and their caregivers (e.g., parent, direct support professionals, foster care providers, personal agents, other family members, and advocates) live a healthier life. In order to accomplish this we have just started a new Facebook group: the Healthy Lifestyle Learning Academy. Since the Facebook group is new, I hope you will join and ask questions or share information on living a healthy lifestyle.

One of the things we are interested in is what exactly you needs are, what would you like in the way of training programs or information sheets. Your input is very important to us. So let us know what you want or share with us your ideas.

I will be writing again soon so take care


Martin R. Sheehan, Ph. D.


Double S Instructional Systems

Eugene, OR

Twitter: @DocMartin817


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