How Physical Activity Became Apart of these Adults with Developmental Disabilities Daily Routine

Physical activity for adults with developmental disabilities is an important pillar in helping them lead quality lives. Caregivers often find that exercising for an adult with a developmental disability isn’t the main challenge but is instead the initial engagement and keeping of a daily fitness routine. Those with a developmental disability such as Down syndrome have often been observed to lead a sedentary lifestyle in the absence of fitness programs or because their support circle is limited on information of how to support their goals of better physical health. 

At LSA, we have programs that incorporate physical activity with the support of staff and specialized consultants such as physical therapists. Individuals join our programs with a lot to very little experience with exercise. While our participants are diverse in their abilities, interests, and goals, physical activity has been a common ground for all to meet and strengthen a community with one another. Exercising is not a requirement but we find many of our participants prefer to keep it as part of their daily routine. This did not happen overnight and took time to understand each individual’s strengths while discovering the right approach that works best to get them happily engaged. 

While this blog can help enhance the types of support provided by staff and programs, it is also for those who do not have a program or specialized consultant readily available. In this blog, we’re sharing all our tips that can help set up adults with developmental disabilities and their caregivers on the road to success where physical activity becomes a part of the daily routine that is a worthwhile and enjoyable experience for all. 

Tips for establishing a daily routine with physical activity for adults with developmental disabilities

1. Positive and spoken support 

We have a number of participants whose goals are to specifically include some level of physical activity throughout the day. While participants recognize the importance of reaching their goals, the ambition to do so is not always there. This happens to the best of us. Sometimes, all you need at that moment is some words of encouragement. Other times, nothing beats having someone next to you to help keep you moving forward. 

  • Turn up the speaker and play fun upbeat songs or the individual’s favorite songs.
  • Exercise alongside the individual.
  • Reframe the perspective of the workout as a fun game.
  • Be around others such as peers or friends who have the same goals. 

2. Keep track and documentation of participant emotions, likes, and progress 

adult with developmental disability on sky walker 1

Some individuals may or may not have the capacity to express themselves when they no longer enjoy a particular exercise movement. Other times, individuals make significant progress in movements but do not keep track of this. 

  • Keep a daily tracking sheet of an individual’s reaction or mood to an exercise
    • Did they enjoy it before and no longer appear to be now? It might be time to stop that exercise and do something new.  
  • Record progress
    • Was the individual only able to walk one or two laps around the track but is now doing three laps? 
    • Keep track of this and be sure to show them how far they’ve come. 

3. Equipment

The types of equipment available can be a total game changer. 

  • Velcro straps to help grip. 
  • Experiment with different types of equipment to discover what they gravitate to the most. 

4. Physical activity setting 

adult with developmental disability walking on track
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The setting one is in when doing a physical activity can be influential on whether that means working out or focusing on something else. LSA staff have observed that participants are likely to maintain engagement with their routine of physical activity if the setting in which they work out is changed weekly. 

  • Explore different settings such as the gym, lawn, track, basketball court, and home. 
  • Seek their input as to where they’d like to have physical activity that day and adapt movements accordingly to the setting. 
  • Other times, an individual may thrive off of a strict routine where one particular setting lets them know it’s time to get in the zone and express movement. 

5. Types of movement

Consider different types of movement that involve cardiovascular endurance, stability, and strength. We have noted that some participants in our programs love going on a machine like the elliptical and others prefer a light dumbbell. While it’s okay for each individual to have their favorite movements, incorporating a variation of movements helps with empowerment and overall mental and physical health. Each individual will have their own functional goals so be sure to have a physical activity strategy that keeps in mind adaptability, accessibility, limitations, and strengths. 

These are 5 exercises that Jared Ciner, Certified Personal Trainer and Founder/Director of SPIRIT Club, recommends to help improve well-being and self-sufficiency. 

  • Plank 
  • High Knees
  • Arm Circles
  • Single-Leg Balance
  • Squats

Here he provides instructions and levels to the movements. 

6. Sport 

Sport has the power to unleash movement in an engaged and fun way. It is for all ages and offers a variety of benefits that improve cardiovascular health, weight control, stronger bones, and lower cholesterol levels. LSA staff will include a sport or game in replacement of a list of exercise movements and this has nurtured enjoyment of movement in our participant’s daily routine.  


It takes time, strategy, and different approaches to help an adult with a developmental disability maintain physical activity as part of their daily routine. Once there is momentum going with proper support, adults with developmental disabilities are enabled to lead quality lives in their community. 

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Tie up your laces and get ready to conquer the pavement with us for our Run Home event on Sat Sept 9, 2023, at Baylands Park, Sunnyvale. All are welcome to roll, walk or run to the finish line in this 5k + 10k race. Your participation creates home, and changes lives for adults with developmental disabilities in your community. 


Manhattan Medical Health 

Promoting Physical Activity and Exercise in Older Adults With Developmental Disabilities

Tips to engage adults with intellectual and developmental disability in sport and physical activity

The Arc

4 Benefits of Physical Activity for People with Intellectual Disabilities

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