About the Author: Lydia Bone

Lydia is the Programme Manager of Get Yourself Active. Get Yourself Active is a programme funded by Sport England and led by Disability Rights UK.

6 January 2022

Research shows us that regular engagement in physical activity has substantial health (both physical and mental) benefits for Disabled people. Sadly, Disabled people are nowhere near as likely to be as active as non-disabled people. A recent study showed that activity levels decrease sharply the more impairments an individual has (Sport England Active Lives, 2021).

Given the health inequality between Disabled and non-Disabled people – with the former also having poorer health and well-being outcomes, the promotion of physical activity needs to become a priority for all those who work in health and social care.

Our Get Yourself Active programme conducted research that consistently shows that those who care are essential and trusted messengers to the people they support. This means that physical activity promotion will need to come from them to be successful and support more Disabled people to be active.

Making it personal

‘Personalisation’ is about ensuring that Disabled people have control and choice over their lives. If Disabled people can make more informed decisions about important things, they will feel more independent and empowered to have control over their lives. This is, without a doubt, very important for sport and physical activity.

In this context, personalisation means a Disabled person should receive support tailored to their personal requirements, wants, and, more generally, their goals for the future.

We know that regular physical activity helps increase confidence and independence and reduce loneliness and isolation in Disabled people. These outcomes all make contributions to creating independence and self-efficacy amongst Disabled people.

If we better understand the role of physical activity in personalisation it can help to show the link between what is important to someone when it comes to being active and moving more.

So, what would this look like in practice?

Imagine that someone you care for or support feels lonely and needs more human contact. You could arrange a regular walk with a neighbour, friend or walking groupto help them to feel more part of the community.

The personal focus here is about reducing their loneliness with the added benefit of getting them active. It’s a two-pronged approach.

If you have conversations with individuals and work with them to identify what is important to them, orr find out what they want to achieve, you can help find them the right activity to suit their situation. Understanding individual interests and abilities, previous successful physical activity experiences and personal beliefs and expectations can all be helpful. Ultimately you want them to have a rewarding experience, and this personalised process can ensure that.

A motivating conversation

Key to successful personalisation are the conversations you have with those you support. We know that supporting people to be more active results from having productive conversations.

But it is often not easy to know where to start, especially when sometimes people may not be interested in physical activity or not feel like it is for them.

One way we suggest is to use motivational interviewing. This technique all is great to make sure you have effective conversations to help guide people to change. Having these conversations can help to shape a person’s attitudes and behaviours and uncover how they really feel about activities. It sets you on a course where you can make sure anything they do will actually work for them.

In this model, conversations are not about telling people what to do. Instead, they are a collaborative conversation style for supporting a person’s own motivation and addressing change. After finding out more about a person’s strengths, interests and experiences, you can use this approach to set goals or a plan with an individual around how they would like to be active in a way that is right for them.

You can document this in their support plan, alongside the individual’s medical conditions and the views of other health, therapy, and social care professionals.

Power of connection

Overall, it just makes sense to use a personalised approach when supporting someone to be active.

Learning more about what works for them as individuals means there is a better chance of them finding an activity that really works for them and that they are more likely to continue with over the longer term. Connecting them to activities that fit with other, wider outcomes can also have a more beneficial impact and support them to see the importance of getting active. It’s not just about losing weight or getting fit – there is so much more to physical activity that you can explore with the people you support!

To read more and find ways to support people to be active, take a look at the Get Yourself Active Social Care Activity Pack – an interactive resource designed for social care workers to support Disabled people to take part in physical activity.