Children with disabilities have mighty muscles

There is a lot of emphasis on strength and fitness these days in both the adult and pediatric populations. We hear in the news how obese we, as Americans, are and we are learning more about the complications obesity causes. In the adult population, for example, there's a rise in the incidence of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, just to name a few serious complications. Exercise is something we know can help decrease the risks of these complications, and that’s why this time of year, you see more people on the Greenbelt or at the Blount Memorial Wellness Center at Springbrook and other local health clubs and gyms.

The schools in our county also are battling the rise in the number of obese children. The Maryville City Schools started its Coordinated School Health Program with Amy Cochran working as the coordinator for the student health program and Roger Murphy as coordinator for the staff health program. The system offers health screenings for the students, and it talks with the different school officials about increasing the amount of exercise students receive during the school day.

Maryville City Schools also has planned activities like hiking, biking and walking events for the staff members and their families. The goal of this program is to increase the physical fitness of the students and staff - and to decrease the complications of being inactive.

Another segment of our population that needs to exercise and increase muscle strength and overall fitness level are those children with disabilities. Children who have disabilities are much less active and have decreased independent functional skills than their developing counterparts who have no disabilities. These children are at risk to become obese, but they also are at risk to develop osteopenia, which is a decrease in bone density, and osteoporosis. Resisted exercise is one type of exercise that’s shown to be effective in increasing bone mass in the general population.

Taking the needs of children with disabilities into account, the pediatric physical therapy staff at Blount Memorial’s pediatric rehabilitation clinic developed a six-week strengthening program for children with cerebral palsy in 2008 called the Mighty Muscle Camp. The clinic had seven participants ranging from 5 to 16 years old divided into two groups. Each participant went through a pre- and post-evaluation at the beginning and end of the program with resisted exercise sessions being conducted twice a week for the six-week period. Every participant improved his or her strength and functional mobility. Every participant reported enjoying exercise sessions, and most wanted to know if they could do it again in 2009.

This program demonstrated that children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy could benefit from exercise - just like normal-developing children. The children in the Mighty Muscles Camp enjoyed exercise, as do most people who start and stay with an exercise program.

This just shows that we all need to -- and can -- lead a more-active lifestyle to increase our own quality of life and decrease complications from being inactive.

Tom Schlitt is a pediatric physical therapist with Blount Memorial’s outpatient rehabilitation. He is board-certified by the American Physical Therapy Association as a pediatric clinical specialist, one of 630 nationwide and the only one in Blount County.

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