Outside of behavioral therapy programs, your loved one’s diet and exercise are the most important factors in their health and happiness.
Studies show that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities enjoy large improvements in their health when they participate in moderate physical activity. Parents and caregivers at community-based support organizations can help initiate positive and long-lasting changes by implementing a healthy program of diet and exercise for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) that compliments their behavioral therapy.
The Rewards of Diet and Exercise
Individuals with I/DD are often at risk for obesity and related complications, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lowered life expectancy. This is primarily due to insufficient physical activity, poor nutritional habits, and lack of knowledge about healthy dieting and exercise. Research shows that the greatest reduction in health risk is experienced by individuals who can go from being the least active to becoming slightly active.
A 2014 study by the University of North Carolina offered strong proof that children, teens, and young adults with autism spectrum disorder also experience a significant reduction in problem behaviors and an increase in appropriate behaviors when engaged in a regular exercise program that simultaneously increases their physical fitness, motor skills, and academic performance.
Starting an Exercise Routine
As a parent, your style of teaching and disciplining has an impact on your child. Creating a sense of structure and routine often helps children with I/DD feel stable and in control. By setting a fitness regime with clear schedules and goals, you can help them get invested in a fitness regime that works for them. Always discuss any physical exercise program with a qualified physician or medical professional prior to beginning, especially if the individual experiences any physical disabilities.
Less fit individuals should set a goal of expending at least 200 calories a day. Start slowly with 5 or 10 minutes of activity and gradually increase the exertion. Set a goal of one-hour of total activity that includes 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercises, 20 minutes of strength training, and 10 minutes of stretching and flexibility. Break these sessions up into smaller time frames if necessary.
To prevent loss of interest and distractions, encourage your loved one to participate in a variety of activities in different locations:
- Walking – Several studies have shown that walking is one of the best activities for improving cardiovascular fitness in people with developmental disabilities.
- Hiking – Arkansas’s local parks and forests offer numerous well-maintained hiking trails at all levels of difficulty.
- Biking – Stationary cycling is a great low-impact aerobic activity perfect for bad weather days. When the weather is nice, take a family bicycling trip through your neighborhood.
- Swimming – This fun, refreshing, non-weight-bearing cardio workout uses all major muscle groups. A trip to a pool can feel more like play than work.
- Dancing – Most children and adults with developmental disabilities love to dance, so try getting them involved in local dance classes.
Supporting a Healthy Diet
Learning healthy eating habits is reinforced when children and adults with I/DD are active participants in grocery shopping and food preparation. Learning how to make a grocery list, read product labels, set budgets, and follow recipes are also valuable ways to build upon skills learned in habilitative therapies. Support their learning process by:
- Creating a list of their favorite foods.
- Teaching them about food groups and the food pyramid.
- Exhibiting balanced eating habits yourself.
- Engaging them in food preparation tasks like washing or chopping fruits and vegetables, stirring sauces, and setting the table.
To support the maintenance of a healthy diet with calorie intakes that are appropriate for your loved one, avoid using food as a reward. To discourage unhealthy snacking, provide them with easy access to low-fat, preservative-free alternatives like fruit, yogurt, and nuts.
Since 1989, Integrity, Inc. has been supporting Arkansas families by providing a range of community-based services for the people with I/DD. To learn more about the many benefits of a healthy program of diet and exercise for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, contact Integrity, Inc. at 501-614-7200. We would love to discuss our program options with you.
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