You know you should exercise. You know it’s good for your health and wellness. But do you know the hard facts, and the data behind just how good exercise can be for you?

With the plethora of data asserting the benefit of physical activity on our health and happiness, it’s easy to remember how important physical activity is. Yet, many individuals with disabilities or disabling conditions may struggle to find an exercise that works for them.

Our company works with disabled Canadians, advocating for them to get the support they deserve. Whether it is approval for the Canadian Pension Plan Disability Benefit or the Disability Tax Credit, we provide resources on our site to help people get the support they need. You can check us out anytime for more information

But today, we are fortunate enough to hear from a leading expert Dr. Leigh Vanderloo, the Knowledge Translation Manager at ParticipACTION, a non-profit organization aiming to help Canadians get more active! She shares with us more about her organization and what it does and provides some tips and tricks to get active. No matter what your current physical activity level may be, improvement is always possible and we are able to make positive change. Physical activity is one of the many safe, easy, and healthy ways to improve your quality of life, regardless of your condition.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work

I am the Knowledge Translation Manager at ParticipACTION. I completed my PhD at Western University 3 years ago in Health Promotion, specializing in pediatric exercise medicine. 

  My main role at ParticipACTION is two-fold: 

  • To serve as the organization’s subject matter expert in all things physical activity, sedentary behaviors and health, and;
  • To find creative ways to help share complex scientific findings in more easily digestible and public-facing ways.

What is ParticipACTION? What is the primary focus and goal of the organization?

ParticipACTION is a national non-profit organization that aims to help all Canadians move more and limit sedentary behaviors. We believe physical activity should be an important part of all Canadians’ lives.

What do you wish everyone knew about your organization and its work?

We are a small but mighty organization. All content and messaging we put out is evidence-informed and we are fortunate to work with an amazing network of national and international leaders in physical activity – scientists, researchers, organizational stakeholders, and government and community representatives. We strive to be the go-to resource for Canadians for all things physical activity and sedentary behaviors.

We are also fully bilingual!

What research has your organization done with the disability community?

In 2018, the researchers at ParticipACTION examined how physical activity impacts the brain health of children and youth, including children with neurodevelopmental disorders (namely, ADHD, ASD, and cerebral palsy).

The current state of evidence highlights favorable relationships between physical activity and cognition. Many studies support a positive relationship between physical activity and brain function and structure. Physical activity plays an important role in helping children and youth learn better, solve problems more creatively, and develop healthier brains. Children and youth who are least active or who have neurodevelopmental disabilities may have the most to gain.

Collectively, the research indicates that physical activity plays a key role in preventing and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, in helping with stress management and in improving self-esteem in children and youth. Although initial evidence is promising, additional work is needed to clarify and confirm the relationship between physical activity and mental health in children and youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Overall, when it comes to mental health, physical activity can help children and youth who are experiencing low moods or stress and can also provide benefits for all children and youth by helping them better manage stress and by promoting positive emotions. Physical activity supports and encourages mental and emotional wellness, with very little evidence suggesting harmful effects.

For more information, please check out our Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health in Children and Youth.

What programs and resources does ParticipACTION have in the community?

While we are not a front-line organization, we create evidence-informed materials, resources, and toolkits for Canadians or organizations that work with various sub-populations in Canada. Our website serves as our main hub for all content, blog posts, resources, and downloads.

We are currently in the process of developing a new content framework regarding physical activity, sports, and recreation for persons with disabilities. Lots of great web and app content to come! Stay tuned!

What are some of the benefits of physical activity, regardless of ability level?

Physical inactivity (i.e., not getting active) is the 4th leading risk factor for chronic disease and premature death worldwide. Some common examples of chronic diseases include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers (breast, colorectal), etc. 

When we think of the benefits of physical activity, we often think of the physical ones, like building strong bones and muscles or promoting healthy body weights.

But physical activity can benefit us in so many more ways! Physical activity can positively impact your cognitive health (better thinking and learning, focus, memory) and your mental health (decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, improved stress management and resiliency), as well as create opportunities to support social wellness (improved relationships and bonding, social interactions, and skills).

In fact, after a single bout or session of physical activity, we are more likely to experience immediate important changes in our thinking and mental health compared to improvements to our physical health (which typically take longer to notice).

If you’re interested in learning more about how physical activity can benefit your day-to-day life, check out our “Betters” pages.

Some people may struggle with sports or physical activity due to their disability, is there any advice you can give?

Trial and error is ok. Take your time to try different activities or sports until you find one that “clicks”. Some people enjoy group activities or sports, whereas others prefer solo ones. Some people enjoy getting active indoors (at home, in a gym, or a rec center) whereas others thrive in the outdoor environment.

It’s also important to remember that you might not excel in the new activity or sport right away, and that’s ok! It takes time to develop new skills, so stick with it. As you refine your skills, your confidence in your ability to do that activity will also improve. 

Beyond the physical benefits of getting active, physical activity can improve sleep and mental health outcomes as well. There is no such thing as “bad physical activity”, so every move you make is a step in the right direction. Getting active is a great tool to support your overall health and well-being.

What is one message you’d want to give someone with a disability, thinking about integrating more physical activity into their lives?

Start slow and progress. Something is better than nothing, so don’t feel like you have to go all out all at once. In time, you can challenge yourself a bit more by getting active for longer periods of time, increasing the intensity, trying to cover similar distances faster (or in less time), or adding inclines or stairs to your activities.  

Track your progress (or have someone help you) so you can see all the great work you’re doing and look back on your accomplishments. It’s important to celebrate the “wins” no matter how small.

If motivation is lacking, try establishing some sort of buddy system with a friend, a family member, or a support worker – this will not only help with your accountability but can also be a fun way to sneak in some extra physical activity while visiting with loved ones. 

But most importantly (and often overlooked!), choose an activity you enjoy! If you’re not having fun and viewing the activity more like a chore, the less likely you are to repeat the behavior. And when it comes to physical activity, we want you to “repeat it” daily.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Daily movement is key to living our best lives. No matter what physical activity looks like to you, everything gets better when you get active.

Where can we go to find out more?

Visit our website or connect with us on social (@participaction)! You can also download our free app (in the App Store as well as Google Play) which will help you set physical activity goals, track your activity, and provide you with lots of great articles and tips to help you get started on your physical activity journey.

We would like to thank Leigh for her amazing insights and for sharing such wonderful information with this incredible organization. 

Interested in finding out more about disability advocacy? We have lots of free resources on our website ranging from blog posts about individual conditions to tips and tricks to applying for government funding, to guides on how to apply for government tax credits. 

Looking for help with your applications for government resources? We’ve helped thousands of Canadians with disabilities and their families get the support they deserve. Call us today for a FREE assessment at 1-800-844-6020.

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