Physical Activity for People with Disabilities

Woman in a wheelchair with a child getting ready to run

Everybody needs physical activity for good health. Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in physical activity, yet nearly half of them do not get any aerobic physical activity.1 Learn how people with disabilities can find their own path to physical activity.

Physical activity plays an important role in maintaining health, well-being, and quality of life. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition pdf icon[1.9 MB]external icon, physical activity can help control weight, improve mental health, and lower the risk for early death, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. For people with disabilities, physical activity also can help support daily living activities and independence. All adults, with and without disabilities, need at least 2.5 hours per week of aerobic physical activity, at a moderate-intensity level, to gain many of these benefits.

People with Disabilities

One in four U.S. adults is living with a disability,2 including

  • Serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • Deafness or serious difficulty hearing
  • Blindness or serious difficulty seeing
  • Serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty doing errands alone
  • Difficulty dressing or bathing

Adults with disabilities are more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities.3 Physical activity can help reduce the impact of these chronic diseases. Disability does not have to equal poor health. Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in regular physical activity; however, nearly half of all adults with disabilities do not get any aerobic physical activity.

If you have a disability and want to make physical activity part of your daily routine, here are some steps that you can follow:

Find Your Own Path to Physical Activity

1. Visit your doctor.

  • In consultation with a health care professional or physical activity specialist, people with chronic conditions or disabilities should understand how their disease or disability affects their ability to do physical activity.
    • Talk to your doctor about how much and what kind of physical activity is right for you.
    • Discuss your barriers to physical activity.
    • Ask your doctor to put you in contact with resources and programs to help you begin or maintain your physical activity.

Infographic: How much activity do I need?

Find out how much activity you need from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults.external icon

2. Be active your way.

  • Some people with disabilities may be capable of doing a substantial amount of physical activity; if so, they should essentially follow the Guidelines for adults pdf icon[14.4 MB]external icon.
    • Decide how much physical activity is right for you and your fitness level.
    • Decide what kind of physical activity you enjoy, for example, general gardening, doing chores around the house, wheeling yourself around in your wheelchair, walking briskly, dancing, and playing wheelchair basketball, tennis, or soccer.
    • Find ways to include your favorite physical activity into your everyday life.

3. Start slowly.

  • When adults with chronic conditions or disabilities are not able to meet these Guidelines pdf icon[14.4 MB]external icon, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their ability.
    • Start slowly based on your ability and fitness level. For example, be active for a few minutes at a time, and then slowly increase the time you are active over several weeks, if necessary.
    • Do what you can to get active! Some activity is better than none!

4. Have fun with family and friends.

  • It is easier to stay active with the support of family and friends.
    • Invite your loved ones to be active with you. For example, together you can dance, play outside with a ball, or walk or wheel around the neighborhood.

What CDC and Our National Programs Are Doing

CDC’s Disability and Health Branch, within the Division of Human Development and Disability, supports and provides funding for two National Centers on Disability that focus on improving the quality of life for people living with disabilities, including their activity level:

The Division also supports 19 state-based programs to:

  • Promote equal access to opportunities for optimal health;
  • Prevent long-standing diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and arthritis; and
  • Increase the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Learn more about the State Disability and Health Programs.

CDC Disability Resources

Being healthy means the same thing for everybody—staying well so we can lead full, active lives. Having the tools and information needed to make healthy choices and knowing how to prevent illness are key to being well, with or without a disability. Visit these resources to learn more:

Page last reviewed: May 20, 2019