Due to limited mobility, teens with cerebral palsy (CP) often lead sedentary lives. This inactivity increases their risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disorders and diabetes. Although people with CP face some barriers to physical activity, the mental and physical health benefits of exercise for teens with cerebral palsy far outweigh the challenges involved.
The Importance of Exercise for Teens With Cerebral Palsy
Physical activity is vital to human health, reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and mood disorders. Avoiding sedentary behaviors is just as important as actively exercising. Being sedentary affects body composition, contributing to higher levels of body fat, blood sugar and inflammation.
Many people with CP face fitness obstacles, including muscle weakness, reduced lung capacity and inefficient cardiorespiratory systems. Their bodies may have to work harder to deliver oxygen to the muscles during bouts of physical activity.
Teens with CP may have trouble meeting exercise guidelines. Several studies reveal that teens with CP have low levels of physical activity. In one study of 12 teens with CP, only 64% met physical activity guidelines and just one participant was sedentary for less than two hours per day.
Health Risks Faced by Teens With Cerebral Palsy
Since people with CP have lower fitness levels, they tend to be at higher risk of developing chronic disease. Both metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases are common problems for inactive people. For example, research shows that 73% of teens with CP have potentially unhealthy levels of body fat regardless of their BMI.
Research has revealed that people with CP are more likely to experience various health issues, such as:
- Joint pain
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Parents should be aware of these health concerns and encourage their children to engage in healthy behaviors. Aim to decrease the amount of inactivity and increase the time spent participating in moderate to vigorous physical activity. These changes can significantly reduce the risk of serious health problems.
How to Encourage Exercise in Teens With Cerebral Palsy
Teens with CP should try to meet physical activity guidelines for the best health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that teens get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. Additionally, teens with CP should incorporate at least three strength training sessions per week and engage in flexibility exercises whenever possible.
Moderate-intensity cardio activities are those that increase your heart rate. Teens with CP may have to start with lower intensity levels or shorter exercise sessions and work their way up. As long as you’re getting your heart rate up, you’re engaging in moderate physical activity.
Teens with CP may want to begin with some suggested exercise techniques, including:
- Riding a stationary bike
- Using exercise bands
- Climbing stairs
- Using upper extremity ergometers
Parents should encourage their children to engage in exercises they enjoy. Adapted sports, dance, yoga and fitness classes can be fun for teens. You can help your child set up an exercise space at home or find an accessible gym.
Most importantly, make sure your children don’t get discouraged if they are unable to exercise for very long. Encourage them to listen to their body to avoid pushing themselves too hard.
The Benefits of Exercise for Teens With Cerebral Palsy
On top of disease prevention, regular exercise has an array of mental and physical benefits. For teens with CP, exercise can potentially reduce pain, improve muscle strength, increase mobility and boost their overall quality of life. These benefits can help your kid enjoy greater independence and engage in the activities they love.
Physical activity also benefits our mental health by increasing blood flow to the brain and balancing hormones. Exercise provides a positive mood boost and reduces blood levels of the stress hormone, cortisol—this is why exercise is often recommended for depression and anxiety. Plus, exercise increases self-esteem and encourages people to socialize.
Research shows that people with CP who were active when they were young were twice as likely to be active adults. By instilling good exercise habits in your child today, you’re setting them up for a healthy future.
Though teens with CP may have a slightly more challenging time adopting an exercise plan, regular physical activity is a crucial element in their health and happiness. Parents play an essential role, encouraging their children to exercise and stay on track with healthy habits.
We encourage you to work with CP specialists and occupational therapists for a better understanding of how parents can encourage exercise for teens with cerebral palsy.