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Embargoed Until: Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 1:00 PM ET
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Inactivity Related to Chronic Disease in Adults with Disabilities

Half of adults with disability get no aerobic physical activity

Infographic: Inactivity related to chronic disease in adults with disabilities.

Inactivity related to chronic disease in adults with disabilities.
Entire Infographic

Working age adults with disabilities who do not get any aerobic physical activity are 50 percent more likely than their active peers to have a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, stroke, or heart disease, according to a Vital Signs report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly half (47 percent) of adults with disabilities who are able to do aerobic physical activity do not get any. An additional 22 percent are not active enough. Yet only about 44 percent of adults with disabilities who saw a doctor in the past year got a recommendation for physical activity.

“Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Unfortunately, many adults with disabilities don’t get regular physical activity.  That can change if doctors and other health care providers take a more active role helping their patients with disabilities develop a physical fitness plan that’s right for them.”

Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in some aerobic physical activity which has benefits for everyone by reducing the risk of serious chronic diseases. Some of the benefits from regular aerobic physical activity include increased heart and lung function; better performance in daily living activities; greater independence; decreased chances of developing chronic diseases; and improved mental health.

For this report, CDC analyzed data from the 2009-2012 National Health Interview Survey and focused on the relation between physical activity levels and chronic diseases among U.S. adults aged 18-64 years with disabilities, by disability status and type.  These are adults with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; hearing; seeing; or concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. Based on the 2010 data, the study also assessed the prevalence of receiving a health professional recommendation for physical activity and the association with the level of aerobic physical activity.

Key findings include:

  • Working age adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than adults without disabilities.
  • Nearly half of adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity, an important protective health behavior to help avoid these chronic diseases.
  • Inactive adults with disabilities were 50 percent more likely to report at least one chronic disease than were active adults with disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities were 82 percent more likely to be physically active if their doctor recommended it.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults, including those with disabilities, get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate – intensity aerobic physical activity each week. If meeting these guidelines is not possible, adults with disabilities should start physical activity slowly based on their abilities and fitness level.

Doctors and other health professionals can recommend physical activity options that match the abilities of adults with disabilities and resources that can help overcome barriers to physical activity. These barriers include limited information about accessible facilities and programs; physical barriers in the built or natural environment; physical or emotional barriers to participating in fitness and recreation activities, and lack of training in accessibility and communication among fitness and recreation professionals.

“It is essential that we bring together adults with disabilities, health professionals and community leaders to address resource needs to increase physical activity for people with disabilities,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S. hyg., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

CDC has set up a dedicated resource page for doctors and other health professionals with information to help them recommend physical activity to their adult patients with disabilities, www.cdc.gov/disabilities/PA.    

Through the Affordable Care Act, more Americans have access to health coverage and to no-cost preventive services. Most health insurance plans cannot deny, limit, or exclude coverage to anyone based on a pre-existing condition, including persons with disabilities. To learn more about the Affordable Care Act, visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY/TDD 1-855-889-4325).

Vital Signs is a CDC report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators. These are cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, food safety and developmental disabilities.

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