Many people may not realize how important exercise can be to living a fuller, better life. But exercise offers many benefits to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). It can help them rev up their energy. It can build stamina. Getting moving can help people feel more alert and could even make them happier.
If adults with IDD get into the habit of doing just a few exercises a day, they can improve their coordination, be more flexible, improve balance, and fall down less. Stronger muscles and a clearer mind will help them be more independent.
As a caregiver, don’t let individuals with IDD stay parked in front of the TV. They’ll do better if you do them a favor and encourage them to get active.
Doing so could also help reduce their risk of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, overweight, and obesity. And you won’t need to go to a gym or hire a personal trainer to get them to exercise. In fact, adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities can take control of their lives with safe exercises at home that can be modified to fit their needs.
The following five exercises are ideal for starting a fitness routine, according to Jared Ciner, a certified personal trainer, disabilities support counselor, and founder/director of SPIRIT Fit & Health. As a disabilities support counselor, he realized that people with IDD often need adapted strategies to accomplish certain goals. In 2013, he teamed up with a Sam Smith, a personal trainer with Asperger’s syndrome, to design group health and fitness programs for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The exercises below, which we have adapted from The Arc, will help all people maximize their strength, health, and independence. Each exercise aims to improve stability, strength, and cardiovascular endurance.
- The Plank: Place both hands on the ground directly under your shoulders. Then extend your legs behind you and hold your midsection up with your back straight. Your hands and your feet will be the only things touching the ground. Hold this position for as long as possible. [This is a great way to strengthen your core.] Here’s the look you’re aiming for with the plank. Can you hold it a minute or longer? When you’re done, high five, if you can!
- High Knees: Stand up tall with your back straight. Place your hands in front of your torso and lift one knee up to your hand. Alternate legs and try to bring your knees as high as they can go. Do this exercise for 30 to 60 seconds. [This will not only stretch your hips, legs, and back, it will also strengthen your core, improve balance, and give you good cardiovascular training to improve your stamina and weight management.] This trainer makes high knees look fun.
- Arm Circles: Stand up tall and extend your arms out to the sides as far as they can go. Bring your shoulder blades back towards each other and move your arms forward in small circles for 20 to 30 seconds. Then move your arms backwards in circles for 20 to 30 seconds. See how to do arm circles. [This will strengthen muscles in your shoulders, neck, and upper back. And it will increase your upper body strength and help improve your posture.
- Single-leg Balance: Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and find a good center of balance. Lift one foot off the ground. Try to balance for 30 seconds. Then switch feet. If you can do both sides without tapping your elevated foot down on the ground, try this with your eyes closed. See how to do single-leg balance. [Balance is a vital life skill for all people, especially those with IDD. This exercise will keep you stable and reduce your risk of hurting yourself in a fall. If this seems too hard, you can do this balance exercise while holding onto something like a chair.]
- Squats: Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sit your butt backwards and bend your knees as if you are sitting into a chair. Keep your knees behind your toes (keep your weight on your heels, not your toes), and try to keep your back parallel to your shins. Doing this in front of a mirror or partner will help. Squat until your legs reach a 90 degree angle or until you cannot hold the proper form. Repeat 10 to 20 times. Here’s what your squats should look like. [This is a fantastic way to strengthen your core, hips, and legs.]
For more details and information on easier and harder versions of the exercises, visit The Arc.