Physical Fitness of Adults with an Intellectual Disability: A 13-Year Follow-Up Study

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to describe the change in physical fitness of middle-aged adults with an intellectual disability over a period of 13 years. Participants were 32 adults who worked in a supported work environment in Montreal and had been participants in a physical fitness study in 1983. Using the Canadian Standardized Test of Fitness, the participants were evaluated for cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. A home visit prior to the testing session refamiliqrized the participants with the test procedures. Two forms of analysis were used to describe the change in fitness over 13 years. First, a 2 x 2 (Group x Time) analysis of variance for each dependent variable assessed change over time. Second, effect sizes were calculated to measure the magnitude of change in fitness over the 13-year period in comparison to those without an intellectual disability. As expected, the physical fitness levels of the participants were low when compared to those without a disability and declined over the 13 years. In addition, the magnitude of change over the 13 years, as compared to those without a disability, was greater for male and female participants for body mass index and percentage of body fat and for female participants for cardiovascular endurance and sit-ups. It appears that adults with an intellectual disability may be particularly at risk for declining health associated with aging and low physical fitness.

Key words: mental retardation, aging, physical activity, cardiovascular health

Research has demonstrated a significant decline in fitness throughout middle age (ages 30-60 years; Going, Williams, Lohman, & Hewitt, 1994; Lee, Paffenbarger, & Hsieh, 1992; Paffenbarger et al., 1994). This decline is related to a decrease in physical activity during this same period. Large epidemiological studies have shown that people need an adequate level of fitness to live healthy, disease-free lives (Blair et al., 1995; Lee, Hseih, & Paffenbarger, 1995; Paffenbarger et al., 1994). The benefits to be gained from an active lifestyle are numerous and may result in a reduction of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, depression, hypertension, renal disease, Type II diabetes, and some forms of cancer (Rauramma, Tuomainen, Vaisanen, & Rankinen, 1995; Shephard, 1995). Estimates suggest that if half the population of sedentary individuals in the United States became moderately active, the number of deaths from coronary heart disease, colon cancer, and diabetes would fall by 22,000 per year (Blair, 1995). Speci fically during middle age, there is an inverse relationship with heart disease and physical activity (Sandvik et al., 1995; Seccarecia & Menotti, 1992). Thus, physical activity and physical fitness have become important and meaningful areas of inquiry, particularly during middle age.

Perhaps the most extensive and comprehensive study of physical fitness and physical activity patterns was undertaken in Canada (Government of Canada, 1982). The Canada Fitness Survey assessed approximately 16,000 Canadians, ranging in age from 7 to 69 years, on fitness measures of body composition, cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, strength, and flexibility. It produced a cross-sectional view of the decline in fitness over the middle-age years. In addition, an extensive questionnaire explored issues such as preferred physical activities, extent of involvement, and barriers to present and future activity.

Most people have the ability and opportunity to attend to their own physical activity needs. However, others may require assistance to live a healthy and active lifestyle. This includes individuals with an intellectual disability, previously referred to as mental retardation. It is questionable whether they are aware of the debilitating consequences of a sedentary lifestyle or have enough self-direction to modify their lifestyle (Pitetti, Rimmer, & Fernhall 1993), particularly when one considers how difficult it is for people without a disability to initiate and adhere to an exercise program (Dishman, 1994). …