Half of Americans With Disabilities Are Physically Inactive

The CDC has called on physicians and other health providers to encourage adults with disabilities to get regular aerobic activity for their physical and mental health.

Nearly half of US working-age adults with disabilities (approximately 10.1 million individuals) are physically inactive, putting them at increased risk for chronic diseases, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned today.

Physically inactive adults with disabilities are 50% more likely than their active peers to have a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, or heart disease, according to a Vital Signs report published online May 6 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Regular aerobic physical activity increases heart and lung function, improves daily living activities and independence, decreases the chances of developing chronic diseases, and improves mental health, Ileana Arias, PhD, principal deputy director at the CDC, said during a media briefing May 6.

“In this month’s issue of Vital Signs, we have new science that underscores the importance of physical activity for everybody of every ability,” Dr. Arias said. Many individuals with disabilities are able to participate in regular physical activity but do not, she said.

A Call to Action

“Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, added in a statement. “Unfortunately, many adults with disabilities don’t get regular physical activity. That can change if doctors and other health care providers take a more active role helping their patients with disabilities develop a physical fitness plan that’s right for them.”

Dianna Carroll, PhD, from the Division of Human Development and Disability, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues used data from the 2009 to 2012 National Health Interview Survey to examine the relationship between physical activity levels and chronic diseases (eg, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer) among adults aged 18 to 64 years with disabilities.

Roughly 12% of working-age adults (about 21.5 million individuals) reported a disability, and nearly half were inactive, they report.

A significantly higher prevalence of adults with disabilities (than without) reported having 1 or more chronic diseases (40.5% vs 13.7%; P < .001) and being physically inactive (47.1% vs 26.1%; P < .001).

“For each disability type, a significantly higher proportion were inactive compared with adults without disabilities; adults with mobility limitations had the highest prevalence of inactivity,” the CDC report notes.

“Here are some numbers: 57% of adults with mobility limitations, 40% of adults with cognitive limitations, 36% of people with a serious difficulty seeing, and 33% of people with a serious difficulty hearing get no aerobic physical activity,” Dr. Carroll told the briefing.

Among adults with disabilities who visited a health professional in the past year, most (56%) did not receive a recommendation for physical activity, the researchers found.

“We are very concerned about this and motivated to change it,” Dr. Arias said. Physicians, family members, and friends have a role to play to help adults with disabilities be more physically active, she noted.

“The research reported in the Vital Signs report shows that adults with disabilities are 82% more likely to engage in aerobic activity if they are advised by their doctor or health professional to be physically active,” Dr. Arias said.

“This Vital Signs puts the spotlight on an important but often missed opportunity to get a substantial segment of the country to be physically active,” Dr. Carroll said.

The CDC is asking physicians and other health providers to ask adults with disabilities how much physical activity they get each week and to remind adults with disabilities to get regular physical activity consistent with their abilities. As per guidelines, all adults, including those with disabilities, should try to get at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity. If this is not possible, some activity is better than none, the CDC says.

The CDC also encourages health providers to recommend physical activity options that match the specific abilities of each person and connect them to resources that can help each person be physically active.

The CDC has set up a resource page for physicians and other health providers with information to help them recommend physical activity to their adult patients with disabilities.

“It is essential that we bring together adults with disabilities, health professionals and community leaders to address resource needs to increase physical activity for people with disabilities,” Coleen Boyle, PhD, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a statement.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. Published online May 6, 2014