Benefits of Exercise on Cardiovascular Health for People Living With Intellectual Disability

Approximately ½ million Australians live with some type of intellectual disability (ID). Intellectual disability is an umbrella term for multiple conditions which affect a person’s intellectual function and adaptive behaviour to everyday situations*, these conditions can have a significant impact on healthy behaviours and heart health.

Often people living with ID have low activity levels, obesity and poor diet which lead to secondary health conditions over time. Up to 20% of children living with ID are clinically obese vs 15% in non-ID populations* and unfortunately by the age of 60, on average adults with ID are living with 3-4 secondary health conditions. 

Benefits of exercise for the intellectual disability

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the greatest cause of death among adult populations living with or without ID and that over 23% of this population is living with CVD during adulthood*.

Higher physical activity levels reduce the risk of developing CVD however recent studies show that 91% of people living with intellectual disabilities do not meet the minimum standard of physical activity levels that provide cardiovascular benefits*.

Regular aerobic exercise has shown to help prevent the development of CVD and promote heart health throughout ageing for people living with ID. Recommendations include at minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes high intensity aerobic exercise per week for heart benefits, for weight loss there must be significantly more volume of exercise per week*. 

Some exercise modalities can include cycling, walking, running, rowing, or dancing and is recommended these sessions are divided across 2-5 sessions per week. Benefits can be seen after 8-12 weeks of exercise but for long term health exercise should become a weekly routine throughout a lifetime. 

Exercise programs should be tailored to the individual participant to achieve the recommendations above but also cater for their individual needs and ensure adherence with their programs. Individuals living with conditions such as Down syndrome or Prader-Willi Syndrome may have difficulty walking so exercise selection should be non-treadmill based to ensure they are able to achieve an intensity level that will benefit heart health so swimming or cycling may be a better choice.

Some individuals may have no experience with certain exercise modalities and may have difficulty learning new skills, working with exercise physiologists has been proven to develop individuals’ skill to participate in different types of aerobic exercise and promote physical activity with these populations.

Another key consideration is tailoring programs to what individuals enjoy which will improve adherence to maintaining regular exercise whether it is combining multiple modalities within one session or working individually or in a group setting.

Individuals living with ID have the opportunity to live healthy lives and reduce the risk of developing CVD and other health conditions simply by being active. A tailored program by an exercise physiologist allows the best chance of success in establishing good habits to promote physical activity to manage heart health.

Other exercise modalities such as resistance training and mobility training have a key role in increasing functional ability for individuals with ID which may allow them to participate in more modalities of exercise. This may assist with adherence to exercise programs. However, there is little known on the benefits to reduce CVD with these modalities, therefore regular aerobic exercise is recommended with either moderate or high intensities shared between 2-5 sessions per week. 

Want To Know More?

We’d suggest contacting our team at Precision Physio, so that we can help you with your individual case.

How Do I Book An Appointment?

We’re taking the health of our clients, members and staff very seriously and our preference would be for you to call to book an appointment so that we can make sure to explain our approach to keeping you safe. You can call any of these numbers to schedule a session:

Online Consultations

Evolving with the current environment, we are also now offering online appointments, meaning that we can support anyone who is unable to leave their home. Sessions are done via our state of the art Telehealth system and as long as you have a laptop or tablet with an inbuilt camera, or a phone with camera, we can help!

To learn more about online consultations, please call us on any of the numbers listed above.

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