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Service Providers
This Months Featured Article

Promoting Physical Activity


Many of us know how difficult it can be to lose weight. For some people, just getting started is the hardest step. For others, the most difficult aspect may be sticking to healthy eating and physical activity on a long-term basis. Oftentimes a person may be successful in losing weight only to find that it is regained later. Losing weight can be a slow process and a person may feel frustrated and simply give up trying.

There are different ways service providers can provide supports to consumers who are trying to lose weight. It is important to recognize that being overweight or obese can lead to serious medical problems. It should be noted, however, that losing just a small amount of weight, only 5 to 15% of total body weight, can significantly improve a person’s physical condition and reduce health risks. For this reason, even the smallest steps taken with respect to weight loss should be celebrated.

The Importance of Physical Activity

The relationship of physical activity with weight status is very clear. Simply put, the calories from the foods we eat provide energy. If the intake of calories does not match the calories used by our bodies, weight gain will occur. Conversely, to lose weight, more energy must be used than is taken in. Regular physical activity plays a key role in preventing overweight and obesity. An increase in physical activity during weight loss contributes to success and is most helpful in preventing weight regain. All too often with weight loss efforts, the emphasis is placed on controlling diet with less attention paid to the role of physical activity.

The relationship of physical activity to overall health is also evident. Being physically active reduces the risks of various medical conditions and diseases, especially heart disease. Physical activity helps control cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes plus it reduces the risks of certain cancers. People who are physically active feel better, have more energy, and have better muscle and bone strength.

Unfortunately, most adults are not physically active on a regular basis. This is particularly true with people who have developmental disabilities. As a general guide, most people should have a goal of being involved in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Some consumers, however, may have physical limitations so that activities will need to be adapted and tailored accordingly. Clinical professionals can provide assistance with identifying safe and beneficial physical activities for people who may have limited mobility or physical limitations.

Many people do not like to routinely exercise. Physical activity does not have to be limited to exercises or even include “exercise”. While exercise is certainly beneficial, there are many different ways a person can be physically active without participating in a structured program.

Let’s Get Moving

Below are suggestions for service providers on how consumers can be supported to have a more physically active lifestyle. Please note that a consumer’s health care professional should be consulted before starting a physical activity program.

  • Start with encouraging small steps. Each and every small step taken toward becoming more physically active is beneficial. Success builds upon success!
  • Recognize that any movement of the body is physical activity. Consider how to promote more physical activity throughout the various activities that occur during the day. This can be as simple as parking the car further away from a destination so that a little more walking is required, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or even providing motion exercises such as supporting stretching when assisting a person with dressing.
  • Physical activity doesn’t have to occur all at one time during the day. It is easier for some people to have very brief periods of activity several times a day rather than one long period. For example, some people may not like to take a 30-minute walk but will enjoy three 10-minute walks. Any and all activity adds up.
  • Brainstorm how to naturally build in more physical activity during each day. Brainstorm with the consumer, his or her family members and friends, other staff, service coordinator, or others. Greater involvement in routine daily chores like housework may be an opportunity for physical activity.
  • Determine how much time is spent sedentary (just sitting) during the day. Identify ways this can be reduced by even a small amount. This could be as simple as offering reminders to stand up and stretch every hour to listening to music while walking instead of sitting.
  • Create new routines. Support new routines that involve some level of physical activity. For example, brief walks around the block in the evening could be a new routine. Some people enjoy attending exercise classes with peers every day.
  • Explore your community. Get out and about, go to new places within your community.
  • Promote social events that involve physical activity. As social events are planned, suggest ways in which physical activity can be included. For example, a cook-out could be held at a park (rather than at home) and include activities like kite-flying, duck feeding, frisbee, games, and the like.
  • Many recreational activities such as bowling and swimming can be adapted for people with disabilities. Seek the guidance of clinical professionals such as physical and occupational therapists. Some consumers may not have experience with some activities they would find enjoyable. Explore different leisure and recreation activities. For additional information, go to
  • Every step counts… literally. An inexpensive pedometer can be worn to count how many steps are taken during a day. A goal can be set to moderately increase the number of steps. Walking around is a great way to be physically active.
  • Offer praise. Each of us enjoys praise and recognition. Be sure to recognize and support each person’s efforts concerning physical activity. This can help keep everyone moving and closer to a healthy weight!

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