Love Your Heart

Heart graphic

Corazon image via Ilhh, used under a Creative Commons license

The leading cause of death for both men and women in the US is heart disease, with 1 in 4 deaths being attributed to it. February is recognized by many organizations as American Heart Month. While there are things that can affect your heart that are out of your control (such as genetics, race, sex), luckily there are many things that can be easily altered in an individual’s lifestyle that can help improve your heart health.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are at an increased risk of developing secondary health issues and engaging in risky behaviors that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. However, many of these secondary issues can be modified, and in exchange lead to a healthier heart. We found what we believe are six of the top factors that affect individuals with IDD (and those without IDD) that can be altered/maintained in their lifestyle to help keep their heart healthy.

  1. Eat healthy and be physically active

Healthy eating leads to increased energy, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels. If possible, try to stay away from frozen/processed meals, which can be high in trans-fat, and eat fresh foods. Some other healthy eating tips are:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t completely cut yourself off from treats! Once-a-week type special treats or sweets help to reduce cravings and binge eating, but should not be eaten every day.
  • On Sundays, plan your meals for the entire week, so you know what you’ll be eating each day.
  • Cookbooks such as Cooking By Color, can help individuals with IDD learn about how to prepare simple, healthy meals at home.

CDC Vital Signs put out a report in May 2014 stating that nearly half of all individuals with disabilities get no physical activity. Recommended strategies to be more physically active are:

  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. This can include joining a walking club, dancing, online workout videos, or attending a yoga/fitness class at your local Chapter of The Arc or fitness center.
  • If 30 minutes is too long to exercise all at once, split it up and do three 10 minute segments throughout the day. Individuals will reap the same health benefits as doing it all at once.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight

Thirty six percent of individuals with disabilities are considered obese as compared to 23% of individuals without disabilities. Regular physical exercise and healthy eating will help individuals to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes, which is another risk factor that contributes to heart disease.

  1. Quit smoking

According to the CDC the rate of individuals with disabilities that smoke is notably higher than of those who do not have a disability. The chemicals and plaque from tobacco build up on the inside of the arteries, causing the passageway to narrow. This puts a lot of extra stress on the heart muscle to work harder than usual to make sure blood is circulating through the body.

Some resources to help individuals with IDD quit smoking include…

  1. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level

Individuals with IDD are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure/hypertension than those without disabilities. One cause of this could again stem back to lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Other ways to help reduce blood pressure to safe levels are:

  • Reduce sodium – replace salt with spice to flavor foods
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit stress levels
  • Reduce alcohol consumption or drink in moderation
  • In extreme cases medication may be required
  1. Don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation

Moderation for men is 1-2 drinks per day and 1-per day for women. Excessive alcohol use over time can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, contribute to cardiomyopathy and stroke, or lead to heart failure.

  1. Manage stress

Stress levels for some individuals with IDD can be elevated daily due to frustration caused by communication barriers with peers/physicians/staff, or lack of ability to fully grasp certain concepts in school/work/social environments. In stressful situations, individuals might also choose to respond in non-healthy ways, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking alcohol as ways to cope. Enforcing good daily habits to deal with stress, such as exercising, meditating, or talking with friends/family, will help individuals with IDD manage stress in a healthy manner.

Making a few of these changes could have a huge impact on your heart and the way your body works. Learn more about how these 5 categories and how to improve your health by utilizing the resources from The Arc’s HealthMeet project.

Hypertension More Prevalent in Individuals with IDD

Woman with nurse34% of adults with disabilities have high blood pressure compared to 26% of individuals without disabilities. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer.” Many people have high blood pressure and go about their business every day not even knowing it. This is one of many reasons why regular check-ups are vital to maintaining good health. A recent study published by the CDC stated that individuals with disabilities are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure levels than individuals without disabilities. Individuals with mobility issues have an even higher risk and are 23% more likely.

Blood pressure, which is the pressure of blood against the walls of blood vessels, can be hazardous if it remains at a continually high level. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Any higher than 120/80 and it is considered at risk for high blood pressure (also called pre-hypertension). A reading of 140/90 or higher is categorized as hypertension and you should consult your doctor. High blood pressure basically means that the heart is working overtime circulate blood and keep the body running efficiently. Working at this escalated level causes wear and damage to the blood vessels and heart, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are obesity, lack of physical activity, and diabetes – all issues that are very prevalent in individuals with disabilities. Foods with high percentages of sodium, fat, and cholesterol are also contributors and unfortunately can be found in may pre-made or frozen foods; which may be distributed to individuals at group homes, shared living residents, etc. because they are cost efficient and quick/easy to prepare. Preparing fresh meals at home is the best way to know what ingredients and how much salt is going into meals.

While some factors, like genetics and family history, you can’t change there fortunately are many easy things that you can modify in your daily life to try to lower and maintain your blood pressure level. Some of these things include:

  1. Eat a healthier diet including many fruits and vegetables.
  2. Reduce sodium intake. (Look for low/no sodium on food labels, rinse canned food to remove excess salt)
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Get regular physical activity.
  5. Don’t smoke (or quit if you currently do smoke).
  6. Limit alcohol intake.
  7. Reduce stress.

Individuals that can’t bring their blood pressure levels down by making changes to their diet/lifestyle may need medication from a doctor to help lower levels. Many individuals with disabilities are on other medications as well, so make sure to ask the doctor about side effects and if previous medications will be an issue.

Having blood pressure checked every 1-2 years will help to monitor levels. If high blood pressure is detected, it is a good idea to check it more regularly. A blood pressure machine can easily be purchased at most drug stores or pharmacies at a relatively low cost.

For more information about eating healthier, increasing physical activity, and more check out The Arc’s HealthMeet page with plenty of resources and archived webinars to get started.

Issues That Affect Oral Health for Individuals with IDD

Toothpaste and toothbrush

Image via Kenneth Lu, used under a Creative Commons license

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) often suffer from many health-related conditions.  According to several studies and through The Arc’s HealthMeet project we have learned that poor oral health has been a significant problem for individuals with IDD.  One-third of individuals with IDD have untreated cavities and eighty-percent have untreated gum disease.  Tooth or gum pain can cause individuals to stop eating, affect speech/communication, and affect overall behavior and mood.

There is a multitude of reasons as to why oral health is an issue.  Accessibility to/from appointments, around the dentist office, and with equipment can all be large obstacles.  Financial reasons are also another large factor as some dentists won’t accept Medicaid or dental visits aren’t covered under their current insurance plan.  The lack of training and education for dentists regarding how to communicate and work with individuals with IDD can also impact the quality of services they are entitled to receive.

Due to some of these constrictions, individuals with IDD are less likely to visit the dentist for routine care.  Fear of the dentist can make getting routine cleanings and check ups a traumatizing experience.  These preventative visits, which can help to find cavities and signs of gum disease early on, are then skipped letting small issues grow into larger problems.   Organizations such as Practice without Pressure and the Blende Dental Group are striving to help improve oral health in individuals with IDD in their local areas by providing practice sessions to reduce fear and anxiety, and offering home visits.

Individuals with IDD tend to have poor eating habits when compared to the general population, which can mean eating more sugary foods, sodas, fast food – all things that have higher levels of bacteria that cling to teeth, causing plaque to build up and eat away at the enamel on your teeth causing cavities. Problems such as sensory issues, the taste/feel of the toothpaste or toothbrush, and inability to grasp the toothbrush can all make daily brushing a challenge.  Other times it’s as simple as just not remembering to brush twice a day letting plaque sit and eat away at teeth overnight while sleeping.

Saliva is a natural agent that helps neutralize the acidity/plaque levels in our mouth.  However, some medications (examples can be high blood pressure meds, antihistamines, antidepressants, etc.) can have a side effect of lowering the levels of saliva in the mouth (often called dry mouth).  These lower levels mean that less plaque is washed away and it has a longer time to linger on teeth causing decay.  Certain liquid medications can also be high in sugars as well.

While some of these obstacles are more difficult to change and will take time, there are many things that influence your oral health status that can be more easily altered in your daily routine.  Below are some tips that can help make daily oral care and prevention easier for individuals with IDD:

  • Poking a hole in a tennis ball and inserting the handle of a toothbrush or molding putty around the handle will make it much easier to grip and use.
  • Simple diet changes, like cutting out sodas and sweets, in addition to also assisting with weight loss and energy levels, will also help lower plaque levels in your mouth that can cause cavities.
  • Reduce snacking between meals – every time we eat our mouth turn into an acidic environment. In between eating is when our mouth has a chance to neutralize and return to normal levels. More snacking means the mouth stays at a higher acidic level for longer periods.
  • Set alarms on phones or leave notes in the bathroom as reminders to brush teeth in the morning and before going to bed.  Apps for your phone can be downloaded to set reminders.
  • If possible, try to take medications at meal times or at least before you brush your teeth at night so that plaque does not sit overnight on your teeth.

Being aware of some of these factors that can influence your oral health will help individuals be more conscious in the future and realize the importance of trying to get to the dentist yearly for routine care. Check out Healthmeet’s webpage for more informationresources and webinars on oral health care for individuals with IDD.

Fall Is Racing Season!

If you’re a runner or have any runner friends you might have heard them talk about fall being race season. To many runners, the crisp autumn weather is considered the “perfect” running weather and a lot of people head out to local parks, community centers, etc. to take part in the fun of running a race – whether it’s a 5k (3.1 miles) or a marathon.

CDC’s Vital Signs earlier this year sent out shocking statistics that half of all adults with disabilities get no aerobic exercise at all and are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke and diabetes. For those that are able, running/walking is a great way to get in daily exercise without having to have a special place to go or expensive equipment to use. The only real equipment that is needed is proper shoes and comfortable workout clothing.

While running may be hard for some to start off with walking can actually provide many of the same health benefits as running without all the impact that running endures on the body. Running and walking are both great cardiovascular activities that help to build muscle and endurance, make your heart stronger, and help relieve high blood pressure. They also burn calories which aid in weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

While running/walking is a very individualized sport that you don’t need anyone else to do it with, it can actually be a very social activity as well. A walking club is a great way to stay active and socialize with friends at the same time. All over the country are runs and walks of various distances that anyone can take part in, regardless of if they have an intellectual disability or not. Now-a-days more and more races are taking the initiative to specifically reach out to individuals with intellectual disabilities to be a part of the action. Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a 12 week running program for girls ranging from 3rd to 8th grade with the goal of finishing a sponsored 5k race at the end of the program. GOTR in Columbia has reached out to The Arc of Midlands to work with them to recruit individuals to join in one of their upcoming races. The Spartan Race is an off-road race combined with different obstacles throughout the course and has grown significantly more popular in past years. The Spartan Race has recently modified their course in certain locations to develop a Special Needs Obstacle Course so that individuals with intellectual disabilities can participate as well.

Completing a race is more than just doing the miles. In addition to the many physical benefits from running or walking there is also a great sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from crossing the finish line filled with the support of spectators cheering you on. It helps to boost overall self-esteem and mood, which is what draws many people back to do another race. Many races give out shirts and some even give medals to everyone who finishes, which is a great bonus to all the hard work and training that has been accomplished.

A popular fun race to do every year is a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day morning. It’s a great way to get the entire family and friends out to be active and do an activity that includes individuals of all ages and fitness levels. It’s also a great way to burn some calories before that big turkey dinner later in the day! So this fall think about joining a running/walking group in your community or start one with friends and family to help increase your fitness level. To find local races in your area, check out the race calendar. Learn more ways to stay healthy and active by checking out The Arc’s HealthMeet page.

Reproductive Health Education and Disability

Holding Hands

Image via Summer Skyes, used under a Creative Commons license

Reproductive and sexual health is a natural part of everyone’s life, but seems to be a very taboo topic for individuals with IDD. Reproductive and sexual education is taught in most public schools all across the United States, but not many programs are out there that explain it so that individuals with IDD can fully understand. If we truly want these individuals to live healthy fulfilling lives, educating them about sexual health should be included. Part of living a fulfilling life is to find healthy relationships that help you throughout life’s ups and downs and increase your emotional happiness, so why should that be any different for individuals with IDD.

While this topic can be uncomfortable and scary to discuss with those you care for, it is necessary. There are stereotypes out there regarding this topic such as – individuals with IDD are asexual or, just the opposite, that they have an over-sexual drive that they can’t control. These stereotypes are just not true. They go through the same feelings and emotions that any other individual may have, but with the subject commonly being overlooked they may not understand what is happening in their bodies or how to properly deal with those feelings in ways that are socially acceptable. Teaching behaviors like when and where certain behaviors are acceptable, proper communication, mutual consent between individuals, and how to be smart/safe about protecting yourself in different situations is essential. A lot of this type of education is about teaching appropriate behaviors while the rest is presenting the actual facts.

Many individuals with disabilities have girlfriends/boyfriends, so it is important for them to know the options about if they are going to act on their feelings how to be safe to prevent the transmission of STD’s and unplanned pregnancy (unless in confliction with religious, cultural beliefs, etc.). Since many of these individuals may have pre-existing medications they take, consulting their physician is the best way to figure out what method of prevention is appropriate and safe for each individual. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently stated that birth control and reproductive health should be integrated to become a part of regular care for individuals with IDD.

Another very key reason why this topic should be addressed is because individuals with IDD are at a much higher risk of being sexually assaulted. Statistics say that an alarming 80% of females and 30% of males with IDD are sexually abused during their lifetime. Learning about the difference between good and bad relationships and appropriate boundaries is essential. This type of education will help teach individuals that it is OK to speak up and say no in a situation they are not comfortable in and hopefully will help to prevent these types of incidents from occurring to individuals with IDD in the future.

While it’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, it’s important that we learn to properly teach individuals with IDD about reproductive and sexual health. The Arc’s HealthMeet project has a resource section that contains information about puberty, sexuality and more. Teaching individuals to understand their bodies and feelings will lead to healthier relationships in the future.

Yoga Benefits Everyone

Yoga pose

Yoga image via Tomas Sobek, used under a Creative Commons license

Exercising is a vital part of staying healthy. With so many different fitness fads and activities out there it’s hard to tell which ones actually produce real benefits and which ones aren’t worth your time. While yoga has been around for quite a while now its popularity has grown significantly in past years.  The general population seems to have decided that its results are worthwhile, but what kind of benefits does it have for individuals with disabilities?

Yoga is a combination of body and mind.  It focuses on not only working your physical state, but your mental state as well by incorporating calming breathing and focusing techniques that most don’t even realize they are reaping the benefits from at the time. One of the best parts of yoga is that it is so easily adaptable to all different fitness levels, so individuals of all capabilities are able to participate at the same time (including individuals that use a wheelchair).

Holding the different poses, such as downward dog, cat, tree, etc., engage many different muscles at the same time to strengthen and stretch muscles all over giving you a total body workout. These strengthening activities, which help build muscle control and stability, are great for individuals with disabilities that can make them more prone to muscle weakness. The gradual building of muscle and flexibility overtime using your own body weight aids in reducing the risk of injuries associated with other activities involving heavy weights or machines. These moves and poses rotate joints through their full range of motion helping individuals with disabilities learn to concentrate on specific body parts to improve fine and gross motor skills. It also gets blood flowing throughout the entire body to improve circulation as well. This increased knowledge of balance and control will help with mobility, reducing falls, and hand/eye coordination.   Being more aware and in tune with their bodies can help individuals feel more comfortable and confident in their own their own skin.

In addition, there are also many psychological improvements from yoga too. While yoga is an activity that is done individually going to yoga classes lets individuals be a part of a group of their peers without having the stress from other team sports where their individual performance is going to affect the teams’ outcome. Learning and mastering the different poses leads to a feeling of accomplishment and pride, thus increasing self-esteem levels. Yoga has also been shown to increase focus, concentration and decrease feelings of anxiety. The calming effects that yoga introduces on the body can even be used outside of the yoga classroom in everyday life to reduce negative behaviors. For example, the breathing techniques can be brought into play when individuals start getting angry, aggressive, or stressed to bring them back to a relaxed state.

Another great thing about yoga is that it doesn’t have to be done in a class. Yoga requires very little equipment and can be done almost anywhere – inside or outside, in the grass or beach, or in a yoga studio or your house. Videos that are adapted for individuals with disabilities can be found on NCHPAD’s website and WhatDisability.com. Other resources and books can also be found online too for extra help and information. Yoga terms can be difficult to pronounce, so change the names of the different yoga poses around to make them easier to remember and support with sounds, phrases, etc. While yoga might not be the exercise of choice for everyone, there are many aspects of yoga that can have positive effects, both physically and mentally, for many individuals with disabilities.

Immunization Month – Not Just for Kids

August has been recognized by the CDC as National Immunization Month. During this month they are striving to inform individuals about the importance of immunizations, not only for children, but throughout an individual’s lifespan as well. The week of August 24 – 30, designated Not Just For Kids, specifically tries to reach out to adults about maintaining their health with proper immunizations. Immunizations are especially recommended for those adults with chronic conditions (for example asthma), diabetes or heart disease, which studies have proven to all be more prevalent in individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Many individuals with IDD may live in a residential housing program with other peers or attend a day program – this increases their daily exposure to other individual’s germs and bacteria making it even more important that they keep up to date with necessary immunizations.

For an individual with IDD that already has many other chronic conditions present contracting the flu, pneumonia, whooping cough, etc. can be very hard to fight off as well as being a large financial strain if hospitalization, follow up medications, etc. is required.

One vaccine that is most commonly discussed for adults is the Influenza, or flu, vaccine. It’s recommended to get a flu vaccine every year to build immunity against the illness. The other highly recommended vaccination is the Td (tetanus) shot, which is recommended every ten years for adults (starting after the age of about 19 years old). To avoid getting the tetanus bacteria it is also recommended to make sure to thoroughly clean all wounds and cuts to get all dirt and bacteria out. This will also help to reduce the chances of getting any other bacterial infections as well.

Other vaccines can help prevent against certain cancers, Hepatitis A & B, measles, mumps, and pertussis (also called whooping cough). In past years there has been an increase in the outbreaks of whooping cough in the US. In just the state of Wisconsin they reported over 7,000 cases of whooping cough from 2011 to 2013 and 48,000 cases nationwide in 2012. It is unsure what has recently caused this increase, but making sure that everyone is up-to-date on all recommended vaccinations will help to reduce future outbreaks.

Vaccinations are not the same for everyone. They can depend on an individual’s age, occupation, genetics, potential exposure to harmful diseases and germs, and other pre-existing health conditions the individual may have. So next time you’re at the doctor make sure to talk to him/her about which vaccinations are recommended for the ones you care for and make sure to keep them up to date in the future.

Eruption Athletics – An Innovative Approach to Making Fitness Fun

Eruption AthleticsThe Arc recently paired up with the dynamic duo of Chris Engler and Joe Jelinski, the co-owners of Eruption Athletics, to present at the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference. Together, The Arc and EA, presented 3 health and fitness sessions – 1 to the general conference and 2 interactive fitness sessions with their Youth and Adult conference for self-advocates.

Eruption Athletics (EA) was created in 2009 to help prepare individuals competing in Special Olympics’ games. Since then the organization has evolved into an adapted fitness facility designed specifically for individuals with disabilities to come to work out and learn more about health and fitness. Located just outside Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, EA first partnered with The Arc’s Achieva Chapter to help do fitness sessions at their free health assessment events as part of the HealthMeet project.

Joe and Chris help empower their clients with the knowledge of how to be physically active to build strength and endurance while preventing injuries. They provide personal one-on-one or group training sessions. Their program instills in their clients an attitude that there is nothing they can’t do because of their disability and shows them that exercises just need to be modified or adjusted to fit each individual’s specific needs. Spend two minutes in a room with Joe and Chris and you’ll know why they have a dedicated following of clients that continue to come back. Their bright colored clothing matches their high energy vibe and excitement that they bring to each training session.

Individuals that come to their classes are not only becoming more physically active they are also developing socially and cognitively. The group sessions with peers masks working out by providing a fun, social, and supportive environment that makes individuals actually look forward to exercising! It gives them a place to go each week to see old friends, meet new ones, and be part of a group that encourages each person to fulfill their own potential without comparison to others in the program. Their innovative approach to physical activity is helping to improve their clients physically and mentally by not only building muscle, but also self-confidence through proven results.

EA has recently released their new patented Eruption Athletics “Volcano PADD”. The PADD along with the accompanying instruction manuals that vary from beginner to advanced makes exercising easier, fun, and more accessible for individuals with disabilities. To learn more about EA’s Volcano PADD, contact Eruption Athletics.

This isn’t the last you’ll be seeing of Eruption Athletics though. They will be joining us in October down in New Orleans for The Arc’s National Convention. Joe and Chris will be combining forces with the HealthMeet project again to provide morning fitness sessions – so make sure to find out what all the hype is about and join us in New Orleans for our energizing sessions to get your day started right (and make some new friends in the process!).

Easy Approaches to Safety and Injury Prevention

Safety firstFalls are a large cause of traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities in the US and can happen to anyone at any age. We should strive to make sure that the environments we are working and residing in are safe for ourselves, as well as the ones we care for, and that we are taking the necessary precautions to prevent abuse of prescribed medicines, alcohol and daily mishaps.

One of the biggest safety issues is preventing falls. While some falls are inevitable and can’t be controlled we can do our best to ensure the area around us is as safe as possible to prevent the ones that we can. Some individuals with disabilities are already at a higher risk of falling due to mobility issues that can make getting around already a daily struggle for them. Small changes in your home, such as adding a railing on stairways or a handle bar in the bathroom/shower, can make a big difference. Most often these small things are simple to overlook daily, but very easy to correct. Another easy change is to make sure that there is plenty of area between furniture and tables so that individuals with walking aids will have plenty of room to pass by without hitting items around them. Remove area rugs or make sure that they are secured tightly to the floor with double sided tape or non-slip grips underneath.

Each room in your house should have proper lighting and light switches and lamps should be easy to get to when entering a room. Making sure the individual you care for receives regular check-ups to maintain their vision is also helpful, so that they can clearly see the environment around them. Blurry vision can cause dizziness or make them lightheaded which could contribute to losing their balance and tripping. Staying physically active will also help build bone density and muscle to make individuals stronger and increase coordination and balance, so that they are able to support themselves more and reduce injuries.

It is important to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs. Individuals with an intellectual disability may not intentionally misuse their drugs, but unknowingly forget to take their medicine, take too much of it, or not be aware and combine it with something else that could be potentially harmful. This is why it is necessary for individuals to learn and be aware of what medicines they are taking, potential side effects, and things to stay away from when on certain medications (such as alcohol, other prescription drugs, etc.). A pill container that has the days of the week on it is a great idea to use to distribute what pills are taken at what time of the day. They also serve as a good indicator of whether the medicine has been taken that day in case the individual forgets. This will reduce the risks associated with taking too much/too little of the prescribed medicine. Providing individuals with disabilities with this knowledge will help them understand the importance of each medication and the amounts that they take.

Future injuries and accidents can be prevented by ensuring that the environment around you is safe and the ones you care for are empowered with the knowledge of potentially harmful situations. In the case that something does happen make sure there are emergency numbers near all phones for 911, poison control and the fire department. Watch The Arc’s HealthMeet webinar to learn more about how to prevent and improve emergency care for when accidents do happen.

Health Matters – Low Physical Activity Levels For Individuals with Disabilities

HealthMeet, two people trainingCDC released their Vital Signs earlier this month that focused on physical activity and disability which revealed some alarming facts about the amount of activity that individuals with disabilities receive. The data showed that half of individuals with disabilities get no physical activity at all (compared to 1 in 4 for individuals without a disability). No physical activity leads to other health-related issues such as obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes – which individuals with disabilities are three times more likely to have. Changes need to be made to relay the importance of being physically active and alterations to existing programs need to occur so that individuals with disabilities have more options to physical activities that they enjoy.

The CDC states that there are more than 21 million Americans in the US that identify as having a disability. While the range of ability for these individuals varies significantly, a lot of these individuals are capable of being physically active on some level. It is recommended that individuals exercise two and a half hours a week, which breaks down to about 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week. However, any activity is better than none, so even if it’s just a 1o minute walk it still counts for something. If the individual hasn’t done any physical activity at all prior to this, 10 minutes may also be as long as they can go. Starting slowly and building up gradually over time is essential to help prevent injuries or discouraging individuals with an activity that is too difficult in the beginning.

The Arc’s HealthMeet project has taken steps to help improve the current situation by training caregivers and other direct service professionals in the HealthMatters program. HealthMatters is an evidence-based health and fitness curriculum developed by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that is tailored specifically for individuals with disabilities. It provides the structure and materials to implement a 12 week health and fitness program. Each session focuses on a healthy lesson for the day, such as making sure to drink water while exercising or the importance of stretching before/after exercising, etc., and then spends the other half of the time doing a fitness activity. Activities can be done inside or outside and require little equipment so it’s easy to implement and get started without the need for expensive machines and equipment.

Through HealthMeet, The Arc has certified 76 new trainers from 38 different Chapters of The Arc and other disability organizations across the US. HealthMatters has been implemented in a variety of different ways that suit each communities needs best, whether it’s in a day/residential program, combined with the HealthMeet project’s free health assessments, or brought into local schools special education programs. A few of The Arc’s Chapters have paired the lessons with field trips to local grocery stores to learn about eating healthy or to The Y to learn about using the different weight lifting machines and partake in water aerobics in their pool. These field trips not only were fun and educational for the participants it also got them out in their community and allowed employees that worked at the local establishments a chance to interact and learn more about our population, which they might have had little experience with beforehand.

In addition to getting these individuals up and moving on a weekly basis and helping them to learn more about making healthier choices, the HealthMatters program also improves social skills and helps build self-esteem. It gives participants a chance to interact and be part of a group. It also helps them find individuals that might have similar interests that they can be active with.

For more information about how to participate in one of The Arc’s sponsored HealthMatters: Train the Trainer sessions, contact Kerry Mauger at Mauger@thearc.org