Aerobic Walking among Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Aerobic Walking among Adults with Intellectual Disabilities: Implications for Health Promotion Programs

Jana J. Peterson, Kathleen F. Janz and John B. Lowe


Research has indicated that adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) do not participate in sufficient volume or intensity of physical activity for many health benefits. In addition, little is known about the context in which physical activity occurs for this population on which to build health promotion interventions. This study used time-stamped pedometers to measure aerobic physical activity behavior of 131 adults with mild to moderate ID living in community-based supported living group settings. Participants wore a pedometer for seven consecutive days. A pilot qualitative study of supported living agency stakeholders was performed to interpret the results in the context of intervention planning within the agency setting. Open-ended interviews of eight agency administrators and staff were combined with results of two focus groups of adults with ID (n=12). The participants accrued 6508 ± 3296 steps/day. Controlling for age, participants with mild ID were more active than participants with moderate ID (F=7.03, p<.01). While 14.1% accumulated 10,000 steps/day, only 1.5% achieved 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity in 10-minute bouts on 5 days of the week. Qualitative study results revealed that an intervention should emphasize self-determination and allow for individual needs, abilities, and interests. Interviews also revealed several barriers to program implementation, including resource barriers related to agency financial support structures.

Very few adults with ID met public health guidelines for physical activity, indicating a need for physical activity promotion interventions. Study results indicated stakeholder perceived need and interest for such programs, but structural resources are considered a primary barrier to successful implementation.