Vision of a modern workforce

CSP’s Love Activity, Hate Exercise? campaign is particularly important for one group, says Ruth Owens.

People with a learning disability are less active than the rest of the population, with only 13.5 per cent of people participating once a week in any physical activity. This is due to a variety of factors and obstacles that stand in their way.
For example, people with a learning disability often need support to travel, to leave the house or to participate in activities. Additionally, many people with a learning disability cite facing negative attitudes and exclusion from accessing activities in the community. This means for some people exercise has to happen during organised sessions with other people with a learning disability, and these may only run once or twice a week and they’re often not tailored to each individual’s needs. 
People with a learning disability are often some of the poorest in society and may not be able to afford to join a gym, attend regular exercises classes, or afford some of the kit needed for certain sports. 
It’s hugely important that sport is made accessible for all, especially those with a learning disability. According to a 2017 Sport England report, people with a  learning disability are more than two times as likely to be obese, and more than five times as likely to be morbidly obese, as people with no limiting illness or disability. Inactivity is a contributory factor for this population. 
The physical and mental health benefits of exercise and sports are well-known and, for people with a learning disability, being a part of a team or succeeding at a sport can help teach them vital life skills and boost their confidence and independence, too. 
People can’t get active unless they’re free from pain and physios can certainly help with this. From my work as strategic development manager here at Mencap, I’ve seen first-hand how people have just accepted having ‘a dodgy knee’ or ‘bad back’ but they haven’t known how to get help from a physiotherapist to get it sorted, which means they have ultimately struggled to get active because they’re in pain – it’s a vicious cycle. 
A good starting point would be for physios to make sure all the information and treatment provided is accessible. This might be by easy read guides, which use fewer words and big pictures to explain things clearly. Or by giving time to talk things through in order to explain things. 
By spending time with people with a learning disability, ironing out any pain and niggles and teaching them more about the mechanics of their body, physios can help keep them moving and even inspire and motivate them to do more!
  • Ruth Owens is strategic development manager at Mencap 

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Ruth Owens Strategic development manager at Mencap

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