Engaging in physical activity offers many health benefits, but this can be a challenge if you have a physical disability or physical limitation. Adaptive sports allow those with a physical disability, impairment, or chronic condition to participate in exercise or organized sports and experience the numerous health benefits this provides.
Health guidelines advise 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly.
If you have a physical disability, impairment, or chronic condition, it can be challenging to get the recommended amount of exercise per week.
Adaptive sports modify exercises or sports to allow those with various physical limitations to participate.
What are adaptive sports?
Adaptive sports are athletic activities designed for individuals with disabilities to participate in. These sports are modified to meet the needs of those with various impairments, allowing athletes to compete against other athletes with similar impairments. Types of common adaptive sports include:
- Wheelchair basketball
- Seated volleyball
Adaptive sports foster inclusivity, breaking societal barriers for those with disabilities. Emphasizing the abilities and talents of all athletes has helped reshape perceptions of disabilities, which promotes a more inclusive and accepting society.
Adaptive sports have a profound impact on athletes because they empower individuals with various disabilities and can help increase their self-confidence, resilience, and determination. They provide a platform that allows individuals with various disabilities to challenge themselves, set and achieve goals, and develop a strong sense of community. Role models are created through their accomplishments, which can inspire others to overcome their challenges or pursue their dreams.
How do adaptive sports benefit your physical health?
People with disabilities are at risk for developing complications related to inactivity due to the challenges of staying active. Insufficient physical activity increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Adaptive sports provide a fun way for those who cannot exercise regularly.
Health guidelines recommend that adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. When injury, illness, health conditions, disabilities, or normal aging occur, it can make being physically active harder.
Most exercise or sports can be modified to accommodate someone with a disability. This allows those with a disability to have various options to try something new or continue to play something they've previously enjoyed.
How do adaptive sports benefit your mental health?
Studies have shown that adaptive sports practice improves the mental quality of life in adults with physical disabilities. Adults who participated in adaptive sports showed decreased stress and anxiety levels. Additionally, adaptive sports were essential in promoting social and family relationships, significantly improving social competence.
The positive effects of adaptive sports on mental health are more significant the longer a person participates in them. Adaptive sports provide a means to be socially active and to establish meaningful relationships. By fostering the identity of an athlete, the identity of a disability label was dissociated.
How can you learn about adaptive activities near you?
Local adaptive sports programs and accessible activities can be found on the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) is a public practice and resource center that promotes health for people with disabilities. NCHPAD aims to help individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions achieve better health outcomes through increased participation in physical and social activities, such as fitness and aquatic activities, recreational and sports programs, and the use of adaptive equipment. In addition, NCHPAD is working to create sustainable and inclusive communities through inclusive health coalitions across the United States. These coalitions promote behavior change at both individual and community levels, focusing on leadership, planning, and strategies that support community inclusion.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) provides opportunities and support to individuals with physical challenges, allowing them to actively participate in sports and physical activities. They aim to be prominent figures in a movement to ensure physically challenged athletes are recognized and respected at the same level as non-disabled athletes. They strive to have a significant impact on each physically challenged athlete they serve and provide awareness and mentors to those considering adaptive sports.
Move United is an additional resource that offers over 70 sports on its site for adaptive sports. Their organization encourages athletes to participate in multiple sports until at least 12 years of age to help youth find sports they enjoy to allow them to be athletes for life. You can search their site for your location to find adaptive sports near you.
Before starting a new exercise or sport, it is recommended to discuss it with your healthcare provider to make sure it is an activity that is right for you.
When trying a new exercise or sport, focus on your strength and don't dwell on what you can't do. Consider joining a team. Many adaptive sports have organized team leagues with adjusted rules and formats like wheelchair basketball or tennis, so don't be afraid to try something new. Whether the disability is new or old, try something that has always interested you.
Embracing adaptive sports can be mentally and emotionally challenging, and, at times, it may feel like your disability is in the spotlight. However, participating in adaptive sports can positively impact your physical and mental health, which can reduce the risk of additional health problems in the future and make you feel better.
- National Library of Medicine. Benefits of Adaptive Sport on Physical and Mental Quality of Life in People with Physical Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis.
- Harvard Health Publishing. Taking up adaptive sports.