Exercise Adherence Among Adults with Mental Retardation


Tamar Heller & James Rimmer
University of Illinois at Chicago, 2002

What This Project is About:
Adults with mental retardation tend to have low fitness levels, be overweight, and lead an inactive lifestyle. While many studies have demonstrated exercise benefits and ways to increase participation in physical activity, few studies have used this knowledge to help adults with a life-term cognitive disability. The goal of this project is to improve fitness and health of adults with mental retardation (including Down syndrome) through a general health promotion intervention. This project is to:
  • Test the benefits of a physical exercise program for adults with mental retardation;
  • Test ways to encourage long-term participation in physical activities to better levels of physical activity in this population.

The health promotion intervention includes exercise sessions, nutrition classes, cooking instruction, peer support/health behavior classes, and a caregiver health education program. The program meets three hours a day, three days a week for a total of 12 weeks.

What We Learned So Far:
So far, 38 participants completed a 12-week health promotion program and 18 participants did not receive training. These are some preliminary findings. The participants who completed a 12-week health promotion reported the following benefits as compared to those who only attend a short-term training:
  • Felt less pain in their daily activities
  • Felt more life satisfaction
  • Reported less barriers to exercise
  • Improved their attitudes toward exercise
  • Increased their confidence to perform exercise

How You Can Help:
What are the top reasons you and others who are aging with developmental disabilities, stopped exercising after attending a health promotion program?
What would be the most useful ways for helping you continue to exercise on a regular basis (three times a week)?


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