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James H. Rimmer, David Braddock, and Kenneth H. Pitetti Research Unit, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Colorado, Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities, Boulder, CO; and School of Health Sciences, Wichita State University, Wichita, KA
Rimmer, JH, D Braddock, and KH Pitetti. Research on physical activity and disability: an emerging national priority. Med.Sci.Sports Exerc. Vol. 28, No. 8. pp. 1366-1372, 1996.
Despite the voluminous amount of research that has been published in the field of exercise science over the past three decades, there remains a paucity of information on the activity patterns and physiological responses to exercise in persons with disabilities. In an era when physical activity has grown to new heights in terms of its importance in promoting health and preventing disease, many questions pertaining to how it affects the lives of individuals with physical and mental disabilities remain unanswered. The purpose of this paper is to review the prevalence of disability in the United States and to present recommendations for future research on physical activity and disability. A related objective of this paper is to encourage exercise scientists to undertake research on this increasingly significant group of American citizens.A growing body of research has demonstrated that physical activity is an important component of optimal health. The benefits of physical activity and physical fitness have become one of the more popular topics in media circles, with findings from new studies being reported frequently on the evening news, radio talk shows, and in newspapers and magazines around the country. But despite all this publicity, the message seems to be reaching only a small percentage of Americans, predominantly those with incomes over $40,000 per year who are white. Much of the rest of the country remains sedentary, and despite knowing very little about the physical activity habits of persons with disabilities, it is generally accepted that they are ostensibly at the forefront of this sedentary existence.
In a recent Consensus Development Conference on Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, experts recommended that all Americans obtain a minimum of 30 minutes per day of physical activity, preferably 7 days per week.The consensus panel noted that Americans were generally inactive, and that the incidence of physical activity was lowest in minorities, the elderly, persons of lower socioeconomic status, and women. The panel also noted that there was not enough information on persons with physical and mental disabilities to establish guidelines for increasing physical activity in this group. This was also highlighted in the Federal government's report, entitled Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives: "As with minority populations, the elements of this report that explicitly call for (health) improvements for people with disabilities are limited by the availability of data with which to set targets. One of the major challenges of the coming years is to improve our understanding of the needs of the full range of people with disabilities by improving effectiveness of data systems" (p. 40).
The focus of this paper is to review the prevalence of disability in the United States and to highlight some of the important research issues and recommendations pertaining to physical activity in persons with physical and mental disabilities, in hope of encouraging further research that will eventually enhance the lifestyle of this population.