New guidelines on exercise for disabled children published by medical officers

They include undertaking 120 to 180 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity.

16 February 2022

New exercise guidelines for disabled children and young people have been published by the UK chief medical officers.

They are underpinned by research from Durham University, University of Bristol and Disabilities Rights UK – and the infographic they are presented in is the first of its kind to be co-produced with disabled children, young people and their families, the Government has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said evidence has shown physical activity can be equally beneficial for disabled children and young people as non-disabled children, despite the misinformation about risk.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – Day Twelve
Great Britain’s Gregg Warburton throws under pressure from Spain’s Jordi Ruiz Jordan in the Wheelchair basketball at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (John Walton/PA)

They added that specific benefits which disabled children and young people can gain from physical activity include improved confidence and concentration, meeting new people and stronger muscles and improved motor strength.

The new guidelines outline the following:

– Undertake 120 to 180 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity. This can be achieved in different ways (e.g. 20 minutes per day or 40 minutes three times per week). For example, walking or cycling

– Complete challenging, but manageable, strength and balance activities three times per week which are particularly beneficial for muscle strength and motor skills. For example, indoor wall climbing, yoga, and modified sports such as basketball or football

– When first starting to exercise, build up slowly to avoid injury

– Break down their exercise into bite size chunks of physical activity throughout the day to make it more manageable.

The UK chief medical officers, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Professor Sir Michael McBride, Professor 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.”

Professor Brett Smith, director of Research, Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University, said: “The UK Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines for disabled children and disabled young people are a UK first.

“The scientific evidence is clear that physical activity is safe and has multiple health benefits for disabled children and disabled young people.

The infographic was co-produced with disabled children, young people and their families (Department of Health and Social Care/PA)

“The infographic, that has been co-produced with over 250 disabled children and disabled young people, their parents and carers, aims to communicate these guidelines in an accessible and meaningful way. Together, the guidelines and infographic are a vital stepping stone to improving the health and wellbeing of disabled children and disabled young people.”

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said the charity was pleased to have worked on the development of the guidelines with Durham University.

He added: “Disabled people have a right to get active in ways that work for them, and these guidelines show how important this is. The evidence-based infographic is not only a highlight of the project but a positive example of co-production in practice.”

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