Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Get Fit for Summer

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Get Fit for Summer

Article excerpt

"Get fit for summer!" This was the slogan we used to get adolescents with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy (CP) interested in participating in a research study designed to evaluate the effects of a 10 week community-based fitness program. Although CP is defined as a non-progressive disorder, teens and preteens with CP may begin to experience declines in joint motion, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness. We wanted to find out if adolescents with CP could benefit from an exercise program that included aerobics, weight training, and stretching. We designed the program to be as much like programs that are available to people without disabilities as possible.

Getting ready to get fit

Twenty-three adolescents between the ages of 11 and 20 years signed up for the study. The participants were all able to walk for at least three minutes, with or without assistive devices. For safety reasons, all participants had to be able to follow instructions in the weight room.

Before the study started, we measured each participant three times on the measures we wanted to evaluate. We would be looking at changes in flexibility, muscle strength, walking efficiency, and heart rate at a set load. Measurements were taken before the program began, again directly after the program finished, and then six weeks after the program finished. In addition to the physical measurements, we also had the clients rate how well they felt about their competence in different areas such as scholastic abilities, athletic abilities, close friendships, and physical appearance.

Strutting their stuff

The conditioning program took place at a large, community-based fitness facility in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We wanted the young people to feel that they were working out in a community program rather than in a sheltered medical community. We asked the manager of the facility not to place us in a room away from the general public, and thus the aerobic and stretching portions of the program were carried out on the side of a frequently used indoor track. This arrangement worked out well--it was a great opportunity to let the public see what people who have disabilities can do. Joggers and people waiting for their classes to start would often join our class for a free work-out. Some parents joined in as well.

To save time between the different portions of the program, we used a weight room close to the track. As it happened, this room was not used by most patrons. Near the end of the program, three of the girls decided they were comfortable exercising in the weight room more commonly used by the public and went there to continue the program with one assistant.

The Program

The adolescents trained three times a week for 10 weeks. Our program included a warm-up period for 10 minutes, aerobic exercise progressing from 10 to 30 minutes over the 10 weeks, weight training in the weight room for 30 minutes, and flexibility cool-down exercises for 15 minutes.

Going for the "burn": The aerobic and cool-down sessions were led by certified aerobic instructors. One of the research investigators is an internationally recognized fitness trainer who designed aerobics routines that were vigorous but safe. Balance requirements were minimized and the same one or two steps were incorporated into a variety of routines, the low-impact aerobics routines often had sports-related motifs such as basketball shooting, baseball pitching and batting and boxing routines incorporated into the movements. All of the routines were very easy to follow. The tempo and pace of regular aerobics classes were maintained to maximize cardiovascular exercise. We emphasized fun and increased heart rate over perfect movement patterns!

Stretching the limits: The flexibility section focused on long duration stretches. Each stretch was held for 10 to 15 seconds. We chose muscle groups that are susceptible to tightness in people with CP: shoulder extensors and rotators, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip adductors and internal rotators, and ankle plantarflexors (the calf-ankle muscles used when one stands on one's toes). …

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