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Guidelines suggest disabled children should exercise every day

a little boy on crutches playing football
a little boy on crutches playing football Image credit: rudermanfoundation.org

New guidance from a study undertaken by Durham University, University of Bristol and Disability Rights UK suggest disabled children and young people should exercise 20 minutes every day.

The recommendations also imply youngsters with disabilities need to be involved in activities to improve their strength and balance three times a week.

Chief medical officers, Sir Chris Whitty, Sir Michael McBride, Sir Gregor Smith and Sir Frank Atherton, said: “We are delighted to present this report and infographic which are an important step forward in addressing the gap in physical activity guidelines for disabled children and disabled young people.

“We encourage schools, parents, carers and healthcare professionals to communicate and promote these guidelines across their wider professional networks to enable appropriate physical activity opportunities for disabled children and disabled young people in their communities.”

Brett Smith, professor of disability and physical activity at Durham University, led the study. He believes disabled youngsters are eager to participate in activities but are safeguarded by parents concerned for their health and safety.

“They don’t have any guidance to say physical activity done at certain levels is really good for you. They need that reassurance that it’s good,” he said.

Smith says disabled children and young people can of course benefit from exercise although they must have access to safe areas such as leisure complexes and playgrounds.

“From a public health perspective, we can say x amount of physical activity is good for you or not, but until we have inclusive environments, until we have equality in those contexts, then children will always struggle, and their parents will always struggle to be able to do that,” he said.

The new guidelines suggest disabled youngsters participate in moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercises between 2-to-3 hours a week, or 20 minutes a day as well as practicing strength and balance activities three times a week.

Charlie Foster, professor of physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol, who was also involved in developing the guidelines, said: “We don’t have any evidence to make a minutes​recommendation for strength and balance.”

He added: “The lesson they taught us [is] that public health resources and messages will have more impact if they are co-produced in genuine partnership with people with lived experience.”

The guidelines did not break down various types of disability and stressed the importance of individuals working out which type of exercise is suitable for them.

Smith believes disabled people have been left behind through the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “If people have forgotten about the health disparities, the health inequalities are just perpetuated implicitly if not explicitly on that.

“It’s just putting disabled people and disabled young people at the forefront of policy, at the forefront of our agenda, at the forefront of our thinking, because there are so many young disabled people in society,”

For a non-disabled person to be classed as physically active they should do at least 150 minutes exercise a week.