Section One: Overview of Youth Physical Activity
Benefits of Physical Activity for Youth
Participation in regular physical activity produces multiple physical and mental health benefits. For youth, regular physical activity participation:
• Builds healthy bones and muscles.
• Decreases the likelihood of obesity and disease risk factors such as high blood pressure.
• Reduces anxiety and depression and promotes positive mental health. CSPAP Page 8
In addition to the above mentioned benefits, children and youth with disabilities experience additional physical, social and emotional benefits from increased physical activity. Improved strength and fitness can enable a greater independence and ability to perform activities of daily living. Physical activity is an important factor in the prevention of secondary conditions. Secondary conditions occur as a result of a primary disability and can include pressure sores, pain, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and obesity. Obesity can be especially problematic for youth with disabilities because can it exacerbate secondary conditions, decrease independence and limit mobility.
National Guidelines for Youth Physical Activity
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued physical activity guidelines for Americans, ages 6 and older. These guidelines include the following recommendations for youth:
Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily.
- Aerobic Activities: Most of the 60 or more minutes per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Vigorous-intensity physical activity should be included at least 3 days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening Activities: Include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week as part of the 60 or more minutes.
- Bone-strengthening Activities: Include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week as part of the 60 or more minutes.
Activities should be age-appropriate, enjoyable, and offer variety. CSPAP Page 9
It is important to understand that children and adolescents with disabilities are included in these guidelines. These guidelines can be met with increased accessibility, accommodations and support and should not be dismissed as unattainable or unnecessary. The specific activity recommendations in these guidelines also apply to children and youth with disabilities. Aerobic activities, muscle-strengthening activities and bone strengthening activities are vital to the health and well-being of children and youth with disabilities.
Youth Participation in Physical Activity
Despite national guidelines for physical activity, many children and adolescents are not physically active on a regular basis. CSPAP Page 9
Adults with disabilities are more likely to live a sedentary lifestyle and 3 times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without a disability. The obesity rate for children with a disability is 38 percent higher than children without a disability. Focusing on health promotion and increasing physical activity during childhood can encourage lifelong habits that can decrease the risk of chronic disease in adulthood.
In many cases, increasing physical activity for children and youth with disabilities is easier said than done. It is important to acknowledge the barriers to physical activity for children and youth with disabilities.
- Lack of community accessibility and accessibility of existing facilities and programs
- Lack of knowledge of existing programs
- Lack of knowledge of importance of physical activity and health benefits
- Inadequate family support
Current Status of Physical Activity in Schools
Available evidence suggests that an overwhelming majority of schools do not provide opportunities to support youth in achieving the physical activity guidelines. CSPAP Page 10
Children and youth with disabilities are even more at risk of not receiving the services and support needed to achieve physical activity guidelines. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), children and youth with disabilities were found to have much lower rates of participation in physical education and sports compared to their peers. Moreover, according to the Health and Lifestyle of Youth with Disability Survey, only 40% of youth with a physical disability and 77% of youth with a cognitive disability felt they had the same level of participation as other students in physical education class.
Physical Activity Resources
National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability
A Report of the Surgeon General Summary: Physical Activity and Health, Persons with Disabilities
CDC- Disability and Physical Activity
2010 GAO Study on Students with Disabilities
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
PAG Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth
National Physical Activity Plan
The Aspen Institute’s Project Play