Like everybody else, intellectually disabled people need to engage in some kind of physical activity to keep fit. And, like many other people, the dreaded word ‘exercise’ may loom unpleasantly large. But there’s no getting away from it – getting off the butt and adding a bit of puff and sweat to your day can do you the world of good.

So, let’s look at all the good reasons to get up and at it…

Some home truths. People with disabilities need health programmes to stay active and part of the community. Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. Being healthy means keeping fit to lead a full and happy life.

Choose what you enjoy. Choose the exercises or sport that you really feel comfortable with. A good coach can personalise your experience, so that you can start slowly and build up at your own speed, adding exercises that take your abilities into account. Because the point is not to give up on day two – the whole idea is to find a regime that you enjoy, and which can last you a lifetime.

The power of physical. Adults of all shapes, sizes, and abilities can benefit from being physically active, particularly when engaging in aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Regular aerobic physical activity benefits heart and lung functions; improves daily living activities, as well as mental health and independence. In addition, the chances of developing chronic diseases are considerably decreased.

Work with a group. It’s important that you spend this vital exercise time with others who are equally motivated and tenacious in their purpose. When you work together you can support one another and encouragement better application. If they feel good, you are persuaded to feel the same – or to aspire to do so. Exercising is an invaluable way to make friends and have fun as you improve your capacity and strength.

Secondary health benefits. Health problems related to an intellectual disability can be treated with exercise. These problems, also called secondary conditions, can include pain, depression, and a greater risk for certain illnesses. Most pertinently, people with intellectual disabilities require health care that meets their needs as a whole person, not just as a person with a particular disability.

And some simple rules

Although people with intellectual disabilities may sometimes have greater difficulty in getting and staying healthy than people without disabilities, there are many ideas and methods to get around this.

  • Undertake some physical exercises every day – even just for ten minutes.
  • Know your body, how you feel when you are well and when you’re not.
  • Remain aware about healthy eating. Cut down on sugar and drink more water.
  • While you need some sunshine for good bones, limit the amount every day. Too much sun can lead to skin cancer, but at the same time, too little sun can result in weakening bones. Make sure you have regular check-ups and tests. Keep a handle on any chronic conditions. And be careful and knowledgeable about medications.
  • Don’t smoke. Well, that’s an obvious one. But make an effort to find out what you need to do to stop smoking.
  • Use medicines wisely. Learn about medication safety.
  • Learn to cut down on alcohol because it can be the single most pressing factor that prevents you from getting off butt and exercising.
  • Talk openly with your health care professional about your exercising concerns. Get the information in writing. Write it down or have someone write down for you. What your doctor tells you is important.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends. Always remain connected because this is your key to remaining happy. And happy people tend to make greater effort to exercise.

The story of Sunfield Home

Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

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