HealthMeet: Top 5 exercises for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Guest post by Jared Ciner, Certified Personal Trainer, Disabilities Support Counselor
Founder/Director of SPIRIT Fit & Health

As you may already know, an extremely high percentage of people in America are suffering from obesity. What you may not know is that people with developmental and other disabilities are 58% more likely to be obese than the general population, and they make up roughly 20% of our country’s citizens. As a society, it is our duty to provide the necessary resources and support that enable people with disabilities to be healthy. The purpose of this article is to begin enabling people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to take control of their lives through the practice of health-promoting exercises that are safe, effective and tailored specifically towards their needs.

As a certified personal trainer, I believe that partaking in proper exercise and physical activities empowers us as human beings, and allows us to reach our mental, emotional and physical potential. As a support counselor, I know that people with I/DD often require adapted strategies in order to accomplish certain functional goals. In April of 2013, I teamed up with Sam Smith, certified personal trainer and proud young man with Asperger’s syndrome, to design and implement group health & fitness programs for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Below are five exercises that we encourage all people, including those with an I/DD, to practice in order to maximize their strength, health and independence. Each exercise focuses in improving stability, strength and cardiovascular endurance. (The information below is presented as images. Access a readable file here.)

#1: Plank:

Plank

#2: High Knees:

HealthMeet - High Knees

#3: Arm Circles:

HealthMeet - Arm Circles

#4: Single-Leg Balance:

HealthMeet - Single Leg Balance

#5: Squats:

HealthMeet - Squats

Healthy Eating Tips to Help Fight Obesity

Obesity is one of the largest problems facing adults living in the United States. Statistics show that one-third of Americans is considered obese.  Thirty-six percent of individuals with disabilities are considered obese as compared to 23% of individuals without disabilities. The best way to fight obesity is by eating healthy and staying active. Unfortunately, for individuals with disabilities there can be physical limitations as to what they can do in regards to physical activity.  While most activities can be modified to fit the person’s individual fitness needs, this still puts a greater importance on the necessity to eat healthier. Poor nutrition, which can lead to obesity, can also be a catalyst for many other health related issues too like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and fatigue.

There are many reasons as to why individuals with disabilities may not eat as healthy as they should – lack of nutritional awareness, limited income, trouble cooking themselves, difficulty chewing or swallowing specific foods, or sensitivity to certain tastes or foods. If a caregiver cooks meals for them, the individual may have limited input as to what types of foods are prepared. Ensuring that the individual has a say in their meal choices and making a few key changes can help tremendously when it comes to healthy eating. A simple change such as drinking more water instead of sugary beverages throughout the day will help keep you hydrated, feeling fuller with no calories, and generally doesn’t cost a thing.

Teaching individuals with disabilities how to save money while at the grocery store will help them pocket some extra cash for other activities or allow them to buy more food.  Simple tips such as, using coupons, buying store brand or generic brand versus name brand items, looking for daily specials, and paying attention to expiration dates will help stretch those food dollars.  Fresh fruits that are in season usually won’t go bad as quickly and are more cost efficient. Instead of buying yellow bananas that are already ripe (and can go bad quickly) try buying them when they are a little green so that they will last longer. Once bananas ripen, freeze them to make banana bread!  Individuals with disabilities who also have mobility issues might have trouble cutting up foods such as, vegetables and fruits. Specially adapted utensils can make this process easier and safer. You can also try purchasing frozen or canned fruits and veggies instead (choose fruit that is canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables that have “no salt of sodium added” for best options). They will last longer, are already cut up, and are usually a little cheaper.  Nutritionists have also shown that there is little difference between the nutrients you receive from fresh and frozen veggies, so go ahead and grab the frozen ones!  Large supermarkets and buying in bulk will usually have cheaper prices as opposed to local or specialty shops too.

Planning out weekly meals will also help to know what foods to buy in the grocery store to ensure that individuals are eating healthy every day. When working with the individual with a disability to plan out meals for the week make sure to keep it simple. Recipes that are too difficult or take too long to prepare can be discouraging and may make them not enjoy cooking and avoid it. Recipes should have no more than 5 or 6 ingredients. A good rule of thumb when helping individuals make their meal choices is to make sure that 3 of the 5 food groups are present in each plate. This will help to allow for the individual to choose foods they like, but still keep a balanced plate. Making a larger recipe that can be frozen and eaten again later in the week is also a good idea to have for nights when there is little time to cook instead of running out to a fast food restaurant. Cookbooks for individuals with disabilities, like Cooking By Color, help to clearly illustrate what ingredients are needed and how to prepare simple, yet healthy, meals in smaller portions. To learn more about Cooking By Color’s concept and planning for successful eating, check out author Joan Guthrie Medlen’s, HealthMeet webinar.

Many resources are out there to help teach the importance of keeping a balanced diet. Choosemyplate.gov and the CDC’s new Healthy Weight Issue Briefs provide information on obesity and maintaining a healthier diet. The Arc’s HealthMeet page contains resources and webinars regarding more healthy eating tips and links for further information.

Tobacco Cessation Leads to a Healthier Heart

The heart is one of the hardest working muscles in the body, as well as the most important, which is why it’s essential to take good care of it.  Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death of both women and men in the United States and is the leading cause of disability.

While there are many factors that increase your risk of having cardiovascular disease that you cannot change about yourself – genetics, sex, race, ethnicity, family history, etc. – many deaths from cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease) can be prevented through healthier habits. Making a few key changes can prolong your life by many years!  One large issue that can be easily controlled to help reduce your risk is abstaining from tobacco use. According to the CDC 25% of adults with ID smoke as opposed to 17% for adults without disabilities.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US.  Smoking tobacco allows for a build-up of plaque and other deposits to gather in the arteries (and lungs), thus blocking part of the artery and slowing the flow of blood to the heart.  The heart then has to work harder to push blood through the narrower clogged arteries to the rest of body, which leads to high blood pressure.  When the plaque builds up to become a full blockage in an artery is when a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot elsewhere in the body occurs and can be deadly.

Quitting smoking can be difficult for the general population; however when a person with an intellectual disability starts smoking tobacco quitting can be especially difficult.  There are fewer programs and resources tailored for individuals with ID that explain the full risks, so they may not understand the importance behind quitting and the range of effects it can have on their bodies.  Individuals with ID can also have a harder time controlling nicotine urges.  This can cause outbreaks of bad behaviors towards the caregiver, family member, etc. who is trying to help them to quit.  Sometimes cigarettes have even been used as a reward with an individual with ID to help reinforce another good behavior, which can lead to more confusion about why smoking is harmful.

Although resources are scarce, there are good tobacco cessation programs out there to help individuals with ID to quit.  I Can Quit was developed by Monish University in Australia to help facilitate tobacco cessation sessions with the use of their guidebook and the Michigan Department of Community Health has also worked to create tobacco cessation resources for individuals with disabilities.  Learn more about their resources and the effects of tobacco through The Arc’s HealthMeet webinar on tobacco cessation.

Although quitting can be difficult for individuals with ID, starting to smoke hopefully won’t even be considered if the correct information is communicated early on. However, it’s never too late to quit – your heart, arteries and lungs will begin to repair themselves almost immediately after you stop. It only takes about 20 minutes after your last cigarette for your heart rate to start to decrease back to a normal level.  Teaching individuals these facts and leading by example will give them the knowledge to know the harmful effects that smoking can have before they begin – which is invaluable to their heart and overall health.

A Chapter of The Arc Promoting Health and Nutrition in Schenectady County, New York

Know Grow Eat participants A few years ago, Schenectady County Public Health Services and Schenectady Arc formed a unique partnership to address the high rates of chronic disease and obesity among people with I/DD in Schenectady County through the Strategic Alliance for Health. Schenectady Arc a  provider of residential, vocational, clinical, and adult day services in New York State’s Capital Region, recognized that among its 1,480 participants, nearly 10 percent were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, obesity, or diabetes and wanted to do something to address the needs of those they served.

While nationally-based research showed individuals with I/DD were more prone to incidence of chronic disease, Schenectady Arc had confidence that they could help their participants by improving their diet and educating them about healthy eating habits. Further research found that children who participated in a “seed to table” nutrition education program tended to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Through this program, children participated in a variety of regularly scheduled activities such as vegetable taste-testing, hands-on gardening, and recipe preparation. Based on these studies, Schenectady Arc created Know, Grow and Eat Your Vegetables, a garden-based nutrition education program for people with I/DD. The agency’s horticulture coordinator oversaw the new program which was located at Schenectady Arc’s commercial-sized greenhouse in Rotterdam, NY. The coordinator assessed awareness of and preference for 15 vegetable types and, worked alongside 70 participants to plant and cultivate seedlings.

Know Grow Eat participantsWhile the vegetables were being grown, nutrition educators from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schenectady County (CCESC) conducted a six-week program adapted to the specific needs of individuals with I/DD. This training provided participants and staff with strategies regarding healthy meal preparation practices and how to incorporate vegetables into daily meals and snacks.

This remarkable program continues to flourish and provide nutrition and education for individuals with I/DD in Schenectady County. Since the program began, participants have harvested approximately 1,000 vegetables. Vegetable packets, along with recipes, were distributed for consumption in group home or family home settings. Last year, this program was named by The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) as a model practice and an implementation guide can be found on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website! Also, during The Arc’s national convention, Schenectady Arc and NACCHO presented together, giving chapters of The Arc the opportunity to learn from the success of this program.

Men, Get Proactive About Your Health

Women’s health issues are highly publicized. There are information, brochures and events relating to breast cancer awareness all over the country. However, you never hear as much information regarding men’s health issues. This is not to say that men’s issues are less important because they definitely are not.  Many studies have shown that men are less likely to go to doctor’s visits or follow up on concerns they are having in their bodies. More concerning is adding that to the fact that we have also learned that individuals with disabilities in general go to the doctor less than individuals without disabilities. Therefore, men with disabilities are at even more of a risk for not receiving the necessary preventative check-ups and screenings needed.

Statistics say that 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their life. Prostate cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in men (behind lung cancer). However, it is also very curable. In fact, most men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer will not die from it if it is caught early on. The key is catching it early on. It takes about a minute to receive a prostate exam and doing this annually could be help detect abnormalities while they are still treatable.

Just like prostate cancer, testicular cancer is also very treatable if diagnosed early too. Information has been accumulating from recent studies that show an association between Down Syndrome and testicular germ cell tumors. As other malformations can occur in organs of individuals with Down Syndrome, the testicles can also develop abnormally, which can produce conditions that are conducive to creating germ cell tumor growth.

Educating self-advocates and their caregivers with information like this will help to increase awareness and raise rates of early detection for cancer in men. Help ensure the men that you care for receive the proper information and receive annual cancer screenings. A few minutes a year to get screened could make a huge difference. For more information relating to men’s health, check out the CDC’s Men’s Health page.