ATLANTA, Georgia - -

“Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” said Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Unfortunately, many adults with disabilities don’t get regular physical activity. “

And that’s the issue this study points to, that working-age adults with disabilities who do not get any aerobic or physical activity are 50 percent more likely than their active peers to have a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

The latest report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 47 percent of adults with disabilities who are able to do aerobic activity do not. An additional 22 percent are not active enough. Yet only about 44 percent of adults with disabilities who saw a doctor in the past year got a recommendation for physical activity.

“That can change if doctors and other health care providers take a more active role helping their patients with disabilities develop a physical fitness plan that’s right for them,” says Frieden.

Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in some aerobic activity, which benefits everyone by reducing the risk of serious chronic diseases. Some of the benefits from regular aerobic activity include increased heart and lung function; better performance in daily living activities; greater independence; decreased chances of developing chronic diseases; and improved mental health.

 “It is essential that we bring together adults with disabilities, health professionals and community leaders to address resource needs to increase physical activity for people with disabilities,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

For this report, CDC analyzed data from the 2009-2012 National Health Interview Survey and focused on the relation between physical activity levels and chronic diseases among U.S. adults aged 18-64 years with disabilities, by disability status and type. 

Key findings include:

  • Working-age adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than adults without disabilities.
  • Nearly half of adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity, an important protective health behavior to help avoid these chronic diseases.
  • Inactive adults with disabilities were 50 percent more likely to report at least one chronic disease than were active adults with disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities were 82 percent more likely to be physically active if their doctor recommended it.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults, including those with disabilities, get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic or physical activity each week. If meeting these guidelines is not possible, adults with disabilities should start physical activity slowly based on their abilities and fitness level.