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Health Matters: Getting active every day, whatever your ability

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One of the most significant inequalities in physical activity is for people living with disabilities and long term health conditions, as highlighted in the latest edition of Health Matters.

In this group the proportion of adults doing less than 30 minutes of moderate activity a week (classified as inactive) is almost twice that in adults with no limiting illness or disability.

There are over 11 million people in the UK with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability, and most people develop impairments as they age.  Around 6% of children are disabled, compared to 16% of working age adults and 45% of adults over the State Pension Age.

physical activity chart

We know from research led by the English Federation of Disability Sport that the majority of people living with disabilities want to participate in sport and physical activity and feel that there are major deficits in provision and opportunities for them.

Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation sets out a clear commitment for Government and its partners to increase the provision of opportunities for disabled people to become more physically activite, as well as increasing the awareness of healthcare and sports, fitness and leisure professionals to support and enable disabled people to participate and achieve their potential.

Later this year we aim to publish a report on inequalities in physical activity to support local areas and the wider public health system to close the gap and ensure that everyone, at every age and ability, has opportunities to get active every day.

In developing this report we’ve come across some excellent schemes and initiatives across the county working to support people with disabilities and limiting illnesses, to be able to enjoy and participate in sport and physical activity. This includes:

  • The Fit2Wiggle project which offers dance fitness for people with autism and learning disabilities in Cornwall
  • The Percy Hedley Foundation and schools in Newcastle teaching young people with disabilities to enjoy and achieve through sport and physical activity
  • Fitness in Mind at Brentwood Leisure working to support physical activity for mental wellbeing

The Paralympics is a great opportunity to inspire all of us to get more active, but we shouldn’t wait four years to be inspired by disabled people leading the way when it comes to physical activity.

InstructAbility is a great example of everyday inspiration, a national initiative led by Aspire that trains and supports disabled people to become fitness instructors and works with leisure providers to enable work placements.

The programme has delivered over 200 qualified disabled fitness professionals, contributing over 20,000 hours of voluntary industry service to provide 35,000 sessions to support disabled clients. Many of these individuals also move into paid employment delivering classes to both disabled and non-disabled clients, and through their leadership are helping to change people’s perceptions of what disabled people can do.

Get Yourself Active is another great example of inspiring disabled people to participate in physical activity and changing perceptions of what is possible and achievable.

With support from Sport England, Get Yourself Active aims to break down the information barrier for people with disabilities, providing both information about local access and opportunities to utilise resources like personal budgets. This sits alongside inspirational real life stories of people’s positive experiences of activity from cycling to swimming.

We know that part of the challenge is raising individual’s aspiration of what can be achieved and inspire them. At a population level inclusive campaigns like This  Girl Can and One You, working with TV shows like Superhumans and the very amusing Last Leg are putting active people with disabilities and limiting illnesses in our front rooms more and more, helping break down assumptions and changing perceptions of the possible.

Not everyone can, or wants to be, an elite para-athlete and that’s absolutely fine, but all of us should be aiming to get physically active every day.

The English Federation of Disability Sport and the National Disability Sports Organisations have just launched Together We Will, a national campaign to increase opportunities across the country for disabled people to get active every day.

At an individual level we know that getting started is often the hardest move, EFDS and Disability Rights UK have produced a great simple guide to help people get started and think about what might work for them.

We still have a long way to go to enable all of the population to get active every day, but hopefully these programmes and the many others like them we will truly be able to make physical activity inclusive for all.

Health Matters
Health Matters is a resource for professionals which brings together the latest data and evidence, makes the case for effective public health interventions and highlights tools and resources that can facilitate local or national action. Visit the Health Matters area of GOV.UK or sign up to receive the latest updates through our e-bulletin. If you found this blog helpful, please view other Health Matters blogs.

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