Publication: Participation of people living with disabilities in physical activity: a global perspective

Research Impact:  Today we see the start of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, delayed for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An expected 4,000 athletes with disabilities from 135 international Paralympic committtees will take part in 540 events in 22 sports. Compared to the Summer Olympics that had 11,656 athletes in 339 events in 33 sports, the Paralympic games is one of the largest multi-sport events in the world. As such, the Paralympics opens up the possibility to change attitudes towards people with disabilities, turning what is thought as impossible to the individual believing in themselves that it is possible.

This paper was of the third lancet physical activity series launched in July ahead of the Olympic games. Across the papers, a common message was reported, “Experts call for urgent action to improve physical activity worldwide”. This paper was led by former PESS lecturer, now Professor Kathleen Martin-Ginis with some key messages.

  1. More must be done to empower the rights of people living with disabilities to participate in physical activity.
  2. Physical activity can provide a range of physical and mental health benefits for the 1.5 billion people worldwide living with a physical, mental, sensory, or intellectual disability. However, researchers found that PLWD are 16–62% less likely to meet physical activity guidelines and are at higher risk of serious health problems related to inactivity, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
  3. The proportion of adults with disabilities living in high-income countries who meet physical activity guidelines range from 21% to 60%, in contrast to estimates ranging from 54% to 91% for adults without disabilities. The magnitude of disparities in physical activity for PLWD varies across disability types and is greatest for those with multiple impairments.
  4. In addition, researchers found that any amount of physical activity, even if less than the WHO-recommended 150 minutes per week is beneficial to PLWD. Benefits included improving cardiovascular health, muscular strength, function skills, and mental health.
  5. The study authors call for physical activity action plans worldwide to be adequately resourced, monitored, and implemented to truly advance the fundamental rights of PLWD to fully participate in physical activity.

Access to the rest of the papers in the series can be found through

Ginis, K.A.M., van der Ploeg, H.P., Foster, C., Lai, B., McBride, C.B., Ng, K., Pratt, M., Shirazipour, C.H., Smith, B., Vásquez, P.M. and Heath, G.W., 2021. Participation of people living with disabilities in physical activity: a global perspective. The Lancet.

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