Introduction to Cerebral Palsy and Exercise
Professor, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago.
All Americans should engage in regular physical activity at a level appropriate to their capacities, needs, and interests. All children and adults should set and reach a goal of accumulating 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week. Those who currently meet these standards may derive additional health and fitness benefits by becoming more physically active or including more vigorous activity (NIH Consensus Statement, December 18-20, 1995).
There is no longer any doubt that moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity confer immense benefits to one's health. Since the seminal work of Morris and colleagues in the early 1950s, there has been a plethora of research, documenting the benefits of physical activity in reducing morbidity and mortality. In the past three years, this influx of research has led to reports on the health benefits of physical activity from the Surgeon General, National Institutes of Health, and American College of Sports Medicine.
Dovetailing with this fitness movement has been the increased visibility of persons with disabilities in American society. This strong disability rights movement led to the passage of three major laws addressing the rights of persons with disabilities: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws guaranteed that Americans with disabilities would not be discriminated against in entities receiving federal financial assistance, in schools, in the workplace, and in other public settings, and have helped dismantle some of the common myths associated with persons with disabilities. Despite all the emphasis on physical activity and health over the last three decades, information on guidelines for exercise for persons with disabilities in general, and those with cerebral palsy in particular, is scarce. This was highlighted in a 1996 paper by Rimmer, Braddock, and Pitetti:
The benefits of physical activity and physical fitness have become one of the more popular topics in media circles, with findings from new studies being reported on the evening news, radio talk shows, and in newspapers and magazines around the country. But despite all this publicity, the message seems to be reaching only a small percentage of Americans. Much of the rest of the country remains sedentary, and despite knowing very little about the physical activity habits of persons with disabilities, it is generally accepted that they are at the forefront of this sedentary existence.
There is a pressing need for the public health community to begin to develop exercise guidelines for persons with disabilities, and for consumers to use this information to become more involved in maintaining their health and well-being.