Physical Activity for Nurses with Disabilities

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Lisa Marie Bernardo, PhD, MPH, RN, HFS
Volume 1, Issue 1

Nurses and others with disabilities need to maintain their health and well-being through physical activity and exercise. In these tough economic times, no one can afford to be ill or to struggle with their health. Therefore, utilizing existing resources to help you maintain your physical, emotional and spiritual health are of utmost importance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone be physically active every day. Physical activity is bodily movement that is produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle and that substantially increases energy expenditure (ACSM, 2006, p. 3). Activities of daily living, such as occupational work, household chores (gardening, cleaning) and transportation (walking, biking) are included in physical activity. Also included are leisure activities, such as competitive sports, recreational activities and exercise. Exercise, as a subcomponent of physical activity, is planned, structured and repetitive bodily movement done to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness (ACSM, 2006, p. 3).

Ideally, everyone should engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity or exercise every day or most days of the week. These 30 minutes can be divided into 10-minute increments if your time is limited. Sadly, people with disabilities do not engage in physical activities in the same proportion as people without disabilities. According to Healthy People 2010, 12% of people with disabilities engage in 30 minutes of physical activity 5 or more days a week; 16% of people without disabilities do the same. Furthermore, 56% of people with disabilities engage in no leisure time activity, compared to 36% without disabilities. And, less than 20% of adults with disabilities engage in vigorous physical activity that promotes fitness or muscular strength. Do you fit into any of these categories?

People with disabilities may have difficulty finding advice and assistance with exercise, because personal trainers and group fitness instructors may not be taught how to work with clients with disabilities; DVD’s, books and other self-paced materials may not address the needs of people with disabilities; and there are very few structured programs and modifications to equipment that are beneficial to this population.

There are a number of resources available that can help you get started with a plan for physical activity and exercise that is right for you. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the gold standard of exercise science ( The ACSM, in partnership with the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) created the ACSM/NCPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT). A CIFT is a fitness professional who assesses, develops and implements an individualized exercise program for persons with a physical, sensory or cognitive disability, who are healthy or have medical clearance to perform independent physical activity. A CIFT has knowledge of exercise physiology, exercise testing and programming, as well as knowledge in inclusive facility design and awareness of social inclusion for people with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To locate a CIFT in your area, go to, click on certification, then click on Find an ACSM Certified Professional.

To help you set a path for fitness and wellness, you can seek the assistance of a wellness coach. Wellcoaches ( is in strategic partnership with the ACSM and is setting the gold standard for the new professions of health coach, fitness coach, and wellness coach. Wellcoaches help you to devise a plan for good health by assessing your needs; helping you to identify your strengths and barriers; and guiding you on a path that includes goal setting and achievement. Wellcoaches focus on health, fitness, nutrition, and stress management. A sub-group of Wellcoaches includes nurses, physicians and other licensed health care professionals who have attained certification as a licensed Wellness Coach. This coaching can be done via online, telephonic or in-person modalities. Costs vary depending on the coach’s fees. Visit; click on Find Your Wellness Coach to learn about the types of coaches that are available and that can meet your needs.

Physical activity and exercise tailored for nurses with disabilities is important to help them achieve physical, mental and spiritual health; promote self-esteem; promote a healthy lifestyle; and promote qualify of life. Utilizing these and other resources can help you to get started on a healthy approach to life and wellness.