ACCORDING to Sport England, disabled people or those born with a long-term health condition are twice as likely to be physically inactive, which can, in turn, lead to associated illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke and many more.
Furthermore, the relationship between regular physical exercise and better mental health is well-documented. Given that children with learning disabilities are four and a half times more likely to have a mental health problem than children without a learning disability, according to the Mental Health Foundation, it stands to reason that getting regular exercise is vital not just for physical health but for the mental well-being of those with a disability.
So it was welcome news, when in February this year, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) issued new guidelines stating that disabled children and young people should be getting 20 minutes of exercise a day and doing strength and balance activities three times a week. Though remarkably these guidelines are the first of their kind for disabled children and young people!
Mum of Maija, who has cerebral palsy, triple X syndrome and global developmental delay, knows just how important getting regular physical exercise for Maija is.
The family attend a fantastic accessible running club in East London and try to go to the group most weekends. It was there that they tried out a ‘Race-Runner’ and Maija fell in love with it!
Maija was born extremely prematurely at 23 weeks and five days, weighing just 470 grams, but despite her difficult start in life, she has surprised her family and doctors alike.
Maija’s mum, Elke, explained:
“Maija is incredible – she’s amazed us all! She’s come such a long way – from being ventilated, on oxygen and tube-fed to now being an energetic little girl who loves to learn and play. She’s got such a zest for life but she requires constant assistance to move and is unable to independently operate her wheelchair or walker. However, due to its engineering, the ‘Race-Runner’ allows her this ability and freedom.”
Seeing how much she enjoyed using the Race-Runner, Maija’s family were keen to get one to help her get daily exercise, but due to the cost – more than £1,800 – they reached out to Children Today for support.
“When the Race-Runner arrived, Maija wanted to go out on it at the first opportunity. We went to Victoria Park and had a lovely day out together as a family. She was thrilled to have a sense of independence and the ability to have adventures of her own.
“It’s also a fun way of strengthening her legs, which in turn will help to improve her walking endurance and balance, as well as maintain the integrity of hip joints. Steering the ‘Race-Runner’ will also help to strengthen Maija’s arm and tummy muscles.”
Emma Prescott, charity director at Children Today, added:
“We all know how important getting regular exercise is for everyone, both young and old, but it can be so much more difficult for those with a physical or learning disability to gain access to sport and exercise. There simply aren’t as many options and groups for disabled children. In addition, often the cost of the equipment needed means it can be prohibitively expensive to get daily exercise.
“Typically swimming is often a ‘go to’ option for many disabled children and young people. For those with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, in particular, there are huge benefits to swimming as it helps to strengthen muscles. Sadly though, throughout the pandemic and beyond, we’ve found many of the children we support haven’t had regular access to swimming, or their lessons have been cancelled altogether.
“Likewise, many inclusive sporting activities, groups and classes were put on hold or have been scaled back to minimise social mixing. Even though restrictions have been officially lifted, there’s still a long way to go before things are back to ‘normal’.
“So, this dependency on groups, activities and equipment, in order to be able to exercise can be problematic for those with a disability. Maija’s ‘Race-Runner’ is a great example of how having your own equipment means the difference between being able to exercise once a week (depending on whether the group is running that week) and having the option to exercise whenever you choose.”
For more information about Children Today, please visit: https://www.childrentoday.org.uk.