“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30
This verse came to me as I prepared to write this blog about disability and exercise. We want our children to love the Lord AND to grow up strong and healthy. However, the “strong and healthy” part seems to be the most difficult, especially when it comes to looking for a way for our special needs children to exercise. There just are not a lot of options out there for them. I know I have found that to be true for my son Ryan who is 17 and happens to have Down syndrome. The best exercise I could find for him to do was walking. While that is an excellent exercise, he needs more, just like I know I need more when it comes to staying healthy and fit.
About a year ago we were so blessed to find a place that has a program designed for those with special needs. They have created a variety of exercises that positively impact brain chemistry, emotional health, and physical conditioning. They see the value of EVERYONE being fit and meeting our special needs kids at a level that they can achieve their best.
When my son Ryan started the program, I wanted him to be healthy, get stronger, slim down and strengthen his core, but the bonus was his confidence level being built up. He looks forward to going every week and doesn’t want to miss (I wish I could say I never want to miss when it is my turn to hit the gym, but if I said that, it would be a huge lie!) I saw my son begin this program with uncertainty on how to do specific exercises to mastering it in just a few short sessions. I have been able to watch him do 12” box jumps, battle ropes, medicine balls and just recently achieving multiple sit-ups on his own! He along with his other friends in the class all were able to accomplish this goal! This is huge because our special needs friends tend to have low muscle tone so to be able to do any of this is HARD WORK and they are willing to put it in!
Ryan comes out of his workouts feeling better and stronger and he LOVES to show you how much bigger his muscles have gotten after each work out by flexing for you.
We know it is important for EVERYONE to have good health and exercise is a part of that. We also know that our special needs children are at more risk for obesity which leads to more health issues. According to the CDC:
- Children and adults with mobility limitations and intellectual or learning disabilities are at greatest risk for obesity
- 20% of children 10 through 17 years of age who have special health care needs are obese compared with 15% of children of the same ages without special health care needs.
- Annual health care costs of obesity that are related to disability are estimated at approximately $44 billion
The benefits for them to exercise is not only to control weight but improve cardiovascular and muscle fitness, mental health, balance and a better ability to do daily tasks and daily life. So, doesn’t it make sense to offer more exercise options for this community of individuals so that they can have the best life possible!
Amy is the Special Needs Ministry Director for The Chapel Green. She grew up at The Chapel and has been married to her husband Mark for more than 20 years. They have two children, Abby and Ryan. Ryan was born in 2001 with Down Syndrome. As her family began the journey with a special needs child, the Lord placed on her heart that Ryan came into the world to make a difference and that God had a plan for his life—even with an extra chromosome. (Jeremiah 29:11.) Amy was inspired to come alongside other families to support, love and share with them that their children are made perfectly in God’s image and tell them how much Jesus loves each of us. Amy is the author of It’s More Ups Than Downs and when she is not working, she enjoys being with her family, sunshine, flip flops and reading a great fictional history book.