700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

The Importance of Activity for Kids with Physical Disabilities

Mar 13, 2018
Runner in wheelchair.

Cheering fans and screaming athletes are familiar sounds in gymnasiums and fields across the country. From little league baseball to track and field, over 70 percent of children 6 to 12 years old participated in an individual or team sport in 2016. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of high school students play on at least one organized sports team.

There are countless physical, social, and emotional benefits of athletic participation and physical activity reaped by young athletes involved in organized sport. Unfortunately, many students who have the most to gain are among the lowest participants. Children and adolescents with physical disabilities generally participate in substantially less physical activity than their able-bodied peers.

While physical activity benefits all children, those with physical disabilities often have lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance along with higher levels of deconditioning and obesity. Regular physical activity has been shown to help control or slow the progression of chronic diseases, increase physical fitness, decrease body fat, and improve overall health and function in this population. Regular activity is crucial for athletes with physical disabilities to maintain muscle strength and flexibility, and can help slow many functional declines associated with disabling conditions.

The benefits of sports participation extend far beyond physical health. Organized sport improves individual self-esteem, promotes inclusion, and supports relationship development. Lessons learned in athletic participation include teamwork, dedication, time management, and sportsmanship and individuals with physical disabilities involved in sport report higher levels of confidence, independence, and quality of life. Within the social circles of adolescence, adaptive sports participation has the opportunity to enhance peer acceptance and support along with a venue for sharing experiences among friends, family, and communities.

Each of these lessons and benefits of physical activity have the potential to carry over beyond adolescence into adulthood as well. Individuals involved in adaptive sports have proven to maintain higher quality of life, higher employment rate, and better overall emotional health. Perhaps most importantly, participation in regular physical activity at a young age has been shown to increase the likelihood of continued physical activity later in life and contribute to maintaining overall health.

The benefits of physical activity in organized sport are universal for all children, including those with physical disabilities. Fortunately, opportunities of participation in competitive sports for athletes with physical disabilities have grown rapidly in recent decades. As the winter Olympics come to a close the Paralympics kick-off with an unpresented amount of televised coverage.

Just as able-bodied athletes train for their sport, disabled athletes should follow a program designed especially for them. To learn more about the tailored resources available at the Adaptive Sports Medicine Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Jonathan Napolitano, MD
Sports Medicine

Jonathan Napolitano, MD, brings diverse training and experience to our physician team with dual appointments in both Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. Board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with subspecialty certification in Sports Medicine, Dr. Napolitano is uniquely prepared to care for athletes of all ages, experience levels, and physical abilities. He serves as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.