It is important for staff and caregivers to understand the dynamics of setting up fitness programs for persons with developmental disabilities. General guidelines are shown in Table 5. These pointers will serve as quick reminders when developing the program.
- A program is only successful if the client is able to adhere to the program.
Incorporate activities that the person enjoys.
- Use a reinforcement system to motivate persons who do not like to exercise. We all enjoy rewards for doing things we don't necessarily enjoy doing. Pair low-occurring behaviors (e.g., exercise) with high-occurring ones (e.g., watching television).
- Conduct staff and caregiver training workshops that emphasize the importance of keeping physically fit.
- Emphasize that an exercise program does not have to be painful and cumbersome. If there is not enough time or energy in one session, break it up into two or three short sessions per day.
- Always start out slowly and gradually increase the intensity, frequency and duration of the program when the client reaches a higher comfort level and does not fatigue easily.
- Make sure the program is convenient and accessible. Most people will not maintain an exercise program if it involves a long or complicated commute to a health club.
- There are a variety of ways to improve fitness. On days when the person doesn't feel like lifting weights, go for a walk or shoot baskets. Don't pigeonhole persons into doing only one activity unless they thoroughly enjoy it.
- On recreation nights when everyone goes bowling or to a movie, park 10 to 15 minutes away from the facility and walk. This will add 30 minutes of physical activity roundtrip.
- Staff who work in group homes and other supported living facilities must be motivated to exercise if there is any hope that the residents will be motivated to exercise.
- Be conservative. Start the program at very low levels (e.g., 10-minute walk, 5 minutes on a stationary bike) and work toward higher levels once adherence is established. The highest dropout rate will usually occur in the first six months of the program.
- There is a great deal of "downtime" on the weekends in residential facilities. Plan on weekend outings to get out of the facility and away from food and television, which often go hand-in-hand.