Cerebral Palsy Research Network Blog

Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – part 2

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

Thankfully, with our lockdown here in Ireland COVID case numbers are decreasing. The 5km restriction here means that both my photo and I have to stay local! The photo this week is of an old mooring buoy for ships (dating from 1908) that sits forlorn on the headland.

Last week I looked at exercise and physical activity in children and adolescents with cerebral palsy (CP) but what about in adulthood? Consistently strong evidence demonstrates that people with CP participate in less physical activity and spend more time engaged in sedentary behavior than their able-bodied peers throughout the life span [1]. Studies have shown that:

  • Adults with CP who reported preserved mobility throughout adulthood attributed it to regular physical activity, participation, and maintenance of strength, balance, and overall fitness [2].
  • Adults with CP who engaged in regular physical activity were at lower risk of decline in mobility. Deterioration in gait was strongly associated with inactivity [3].
  • “What are the best long term exercise/strength training strategies to improve activity, participation and health, minimize pain, and maximize function in each GMFCS category across the lifespan?” was the number one research topic identified in a collaboration between stakeholders, to set a patient-centered research agenda for CP (Research CP) [4].

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that participating in regular physical activity reduces the risk of many health conditions, including coronary heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, and depression. Additionally, physical activity is a key determinant of energy expenditure and thus is fundamental to energy balance and weight control [5].

Verschuren and colleagues (2016) published a set of exercise and physical activity recommendations for people with CP under the following headings [6]:

  • Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) exercise
  • Resistance (muscle strengthening) exercise
  • Daily moderate to vigorous physical activity
  • Avoiding sedentary behavior (i.e., not being physically inactive)

The following table details their recommendations. Note that these are lifetime recommendations; it may take at least eight to 16 consecutive weeks of exercise to see the benefit. Their recommendations are similar to (and based on) the WHO’s guidelines for able-bodied people [5]. Though these recommendations are relatively recent, the concept that “exercise is medicine” is not new [7].

Verschuren and colleagues (2016)Verschuren and colleagues (2016)My notes
Type of exercise/physical activityRecommendations for people with CP 
Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) exercise➡3 times per week
➡> 60% of peak heart rate*
➡Minimum time of 20 min per session
➡Regular, purposeful exercise that involves major muscle groups and is continuous and rhythmic in nature
This is the type of exercise that gets the heart pumping and the lungs working.
Resistance (muscle strengthening) exercise2–4 times per week on non-consecutive daysMuscle strengthening is especially important for people with spastic diplegia because muscle weakness is a feature of the condition. It is important for all muscles but particularly the antigravity muscles: the hip extensors (gluteus maximus) and the ankle plantar flexors (gastrocnemius and soleus). Other muscles to be considered include the hip abductors, the ankle dorsiflexors, the core muscles, and the upper limb muscles, if there is upper limb involvement.
Daily moderate to vigorous physical activity60 minutes ≥ 5 days per weekThis is the ordinary movement we do in our everyday lives. Physical activity counts as long as it is moderate to vigorous. It is less taxing than cardiorespiratory exercise but is more vigorous than gentle movement. Walking, going up stairs, and household chores are all included in this category.
Avoiding sedentary behavior (not being physically inactive)Sit for less than 2 hours/day or break up sitting for 2 minutes every 30–60 minutesOne can be physically active but still sedentary; they are separately measured. For example, if the person meets the recommendation for moderate to vigorous physical activity but sits for long periods watching TV or playing computer games, then they are physically active but sedentary. Prolonged sitting in one position, particularly with bad posture, is not good for any person, but it is particularly ill-advised in spastic diplegia.
*Peak heart rate can be approximated as 220 minus age. For example, at age 15, peak heart rate is 205 (220 –15). 60 percent of peak heart rate is approximately 120 beats/minute (205 x 0.6).

Note that there is no lower (or upper) age limit on the exercise and physical activity recommendations for people with CP. There is no denying these recommendations are very high. However, research has found that typically developing infants can take up to 9,000 steps in a given day and travel the equivalent of 29 football fields [8]. It is important to be aware of the recommendations and aim to meet them as much as possible. And remember, any activity is better than no activity.


Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – part 1

[This post is part of our Knowledge Translation/Education Tuesday series. Guest author Lily Collison, author of Spastic Diplegia–Bilateral Cerebral Palsy, continues the series. You can ask questions of the author on the MyCP Forum].

The natural beauty surrounding us, helps during another lockdown here in Ireland. COVID case numbers have recently increased thus further restrictions were necessary.

Since staring to write for CPRN, I have addressed Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy in adulthood, then a series on the definition, causes & risk factors, and prevalence of cerebral palsy. Over the next few posts I will write about exercise and physical activity in cerebral palsy (CP).

Exercise and physical activity is important for everyone. The goal of exercise and physical activity for the person with spastic diplegia is the same as for their able-bodied peers–having a physical disability does not confer any exemption from needing to exercise and stay physically active.

Just so there is no ambiguity, let us clarify what is meant by these terms:
➡ Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive, and intentional movement intended to improve or maintain physical fitness [1]. Exercise is a subtype of physical activity. Examples of exercise include running, cycling, or attending a gym class.
➡ Physical activity is movement carried out by the skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure, thus any movement is physical activity [1]. Physical activity varies from light to moderate to vigorous. Examples of each include:
– Light physical activity: slow walking
– Moderate physical activity: brisk walking, jogging, climbing stairs
– Vigorous physical activity: fast running, fast cycling

It follows that energy expenditure is lowest while doing light physical activity and highest while doing vigorous physical activity. Recent advancements in wearable monitoring devices allow better measurement of physical activity levels. (I like being able to track my daily activity level.)

Do children and adolescents with spastic diplegia take part in enough physical activity?
No. Studies have shown that children with CP walk significantly less [2] and spend more time being sedentary [3] than typically developing children. A further study [4] found that children aged 3 to 12 showed a decrease in amount and intensity of physical activity with increasing GMFCS level and increasing age.

Does this reduced physical activity have health consequences?
Yes. Reduced physical activity was associated with higher energy cost of walking in adolescents with mild spastic CP [5] and elevated blood pressure in children and adolescents with mild or moderate spastic CP [6].

Do studies show exercise and physical activity is beneficial for children and adolescents with CP?
Again, yes. Studies have found benefits across a range of measures, including fitness, body composition, quality of life, and happiness [7–9]. A physical therapy research summit sponsored by the American Physical Therapy Association emphasized the need to promote and maintain physical fitness in children with CP to improve health, reduce secondary conditions, and enhance quality of life [10].

Over the next posts I’ll write about the importance of exercise and physical activity in adulthood, exercise and physical activity recommendations for people with CP, and more.


Surgical Spasticity Treatments in Children who are not Ambulatory

Sruthi Thomas, MD, PhD
Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

The Cerebral Palsy Research Network (CPRN) announced that its next webinar in its MyCP Webinar series would be on surgical spasticity treatments for children who are not ambulatory on Monday, October 26 at 8 pm ET. Sruthi Thomas, MD, PhD, a pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation physician from Texas Children’s Hospital, will share her formative work in this topic identified by Research CP. The presentation will be approximately 20 minutes and followed by an open Q&A. Dr. Thomas has initiated a number of lines of study on spasticity management for cerebral palsy (CP) to build preliminary data in support of a large multi-center comparative effectiveness research (CER) grant application. Spasticity interventions have been studied more in children with CP who are ambulatory so a CER study that helps determine which interventions work best in children who are not ambulatory is needed. Parents are increasingly faced with very difficult choices between surgical spasticity interventions to address pain, care and other activities for these children.  In this webinar, Dr. Thomas will talk about the state of the evidence, the importance of research and the studies she is planning to answer critical questions for this population.

Interested participants need to register for the webinar to be sent instructions for joining. Webinars will be recorded and posted for later viewing. The MyCP Webinar series includes one presentation per month on different aspects of CPRN’s research studies. Please join us!