Importance of Fitness for Children with Disabilities
The Healthy People 2000 objectives that were developed in 1987 by a group of experts from around the country contains a national strategy for improving the health of the nation.11 The report includes physical activity and fitness objectives as part of the health promotion plan and sends a mandate to the nation's schools to increase physical education time and spend more of it on physical fitness.
There has also been support for fitness promotion among persons with disabilities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).In their groundbreaking report, Physical Activity and Health. A Report of the Surgeon General, two key observations were made concerning the importance of physical activity for persons with disabilities:
- People with disabilities are less likely to engage in regular moderate physical activity than people without disabilities, yet they have similar needs to promote their health and prevent unnecessary disease.
- Quality physical education, preferably daily and K-12, must be made available to children and youth with disabilities.12
Despite all the emphasis on physical activity and health over the last two decades, information on guidelines for exercise in children with disabilities remains scarce. Although there are some reports of model fitness programs that have demonstrated success in children with disabilities, the most promising set of guidelines comes from the recent publication of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides science-based guidance to help individuals with disabilities aged 6 and older improve their health through appropriate physical activity.
The small number of descriptive studies that have been completed on children with disabilities have documented low fitness levels.13, 14 Since most children with disabilities do not have access to community recreation programs and do not participate in after-school or weekend recreation activities, it is understandable why their fitness levels are low.15 Clearly, there is a pressing need to address this problem by developing more community-based and school-based fitness programs that are inclusive in nature, and that can bring children with disabilities into the mainstream of sports, fitness and recreation programs in this country.