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Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – older children, adolescents, and adults – part 4

[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].

In the last post I included links to the guides Fit for Life, Fit for Sport, and exercise and physical activity tips for the younger child. This post will address exercise and physical activity tips for the older child, adolescent, and adult. I wrote them with therapists at Gillette.

  • For all types of exercise, a referral to either a PT or OT is recommended, even for just one or two sessions. There are also wonderful athletic trainers who have advanced training in working with people with physical limitations. Trainers who lack this specialized training, however, may advise overexercising, which can lead to injuries. Consider calling the fitness centers or gyms in your area to check if any of their staff have training in adapting exercise programs for people with physical challenges.
  • If you’re working with weights, consider getting expert guidance on how much weight is safe to work with and how many repetitions to perform.
  • Fast walking can achieve many of the same benefits as running and may be safer for some people.
  • You have many options when it comes to cycling, including outdoor and indoor (static) bikes. Three-wheeled bikes may be ideal for those with balance issues. You can purchase blocks (trainers) to convert an outdoor bike to an indoor bike when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor mobility.
  • A therapist can offer guidance on the appropriate size and type of sports wheelchair to use and can check to see if you are eligible for any funding aid to purchase one.
  • A few tips for swimming:
    • Consider scheduling a few sessions with a pool PT or OT to develop an appropriate swimming program.
    • If you use a wheelchair, call around to find a pool with PVC pool chairs and a ramp.
    • A pool temperature of 88–94 degrees Fahrenheit can be very therapeutic and can help reduce pain and stiffness.
    • Nonskid pool shoes are recommended for walking from the changing room to the pool and back to avoid falls on wet pool decks.
    • Swim paddles, kickboards, flippers, etc. can be used to increase resistance for muscle strengthening.
  • You can find many excellent videos online to guide you through adaptive yoga, tai chi, and other such programs. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has some.
  • Incorporate as much exercise as you can into the normal day (for example, cycling to school, after-school activities, or work).
  • Most school programs include at least a weekly session of physical education. Try to ensure that the program includes the child or adolescent’s needs as much as possible so that they can participate in the sport, even if this means adapting the rules, the equipment, or the mindset of the teacher or coach. Forcing the child or adolescent to sit out their school physical education period is a missed opportunity both in terms of the benefits of exercise and the camaraderie and social experience of teamwork. Research has shown that school-based exercise programs are beneficial for children and adolescents with CP.

I’m very respectful of the fact that the people who live with physical disability will have other tips. Your comments are very welcome over at MyCP.

Exercise and physical activity in spastic diplegia – younger children — part 3

[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].

In the last post I wrote about Verschuren and colleagues (2016) recommendations for exercise and physical activity for people with cerebral palsy (CP). For older children, adolescents, and adults with CP, the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport at Loughborough University in the UK has published two excellent guides. The first, Fit for Life, is for people with CP who are new to exercise. The second, Fit for Sport, is for people who want to take their exercise to a more advanced level. These are excellent resources that I would strongly encourage readers to check out.

Other useful online resources include:
➡ American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM) We Can All PLAY: Participation in Adapted Sports and Recreation for Children and Youth with Disabilities.
➡ American College of Sports Medicine Health-Related Fitness for Children and Adults with CP.
➡ The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is a public health practice and resource center for people with disabilities. It has a selection of informative videos.

The following are some tips on exercise and physical activity for the younger child, and the next post will address the older child, adolescent, and adult. The tips were gleaned from my own experience, but with additional pointers from therapists at Gillette Children’s Speciality Healthcare. Your PT or OT can help you develop a targeted and safe exercise program. They will also be able to offer advice on which types of exercise are best for joint preservation. There’s a balance to be struck between preserving joints and playing sports you most enjoy. For example, if playing soccer with friends is what you most enjoy, it is a good sport for you. Swimming is a particularly good sport because of its low impact on the joints.

Exercise and physical activity tips for the younger child
➡ The typically developing toddler gets their muscle stretching and strengthening exercises through everyday movement: running, climbing, jumping, etc. Since the goal in spastic diplegia is to follow normal development as much as possible (to get normal forces acting on the bones), we need to ensure the young child with spastic diplegia gets their required amount of exercise and physical activity. Movement is essential for the child with spastic diplegia, including moving joints through the entire range of motion (ROM) of which they are capable.
➡ Incorporating muscle stretching and strengthening into play and other activities the child really enjoys is enormously helpful. For the young child, learning to play and learning through play are very important. Incorporating exercise and stretching into the normal day as much as possible—for example, encouraging the child to use a tricycle to travel short distances—also helps.
➡ Playgrounds (both outdoor and indoor) are great places for all children to play, but they are especially important for the child with spastic diplegia. Here the child has the opportunity to move in a variety of ways. Playgrounds are also great because they are normal family settings. Parents of children with limited mobility tend not to bring their children to venues that require lots of movement as often, but in fact the child with spastic diplegia needs such opportunities to move and play even more than the typically developing child. Safety must be a concern, of course, but we cannot be so overzealous about safety that our child misses out on great opportunities for movement.
➡ Swimming is also great for the young child with spastic diplegia.
➡ Parents may be reluctant to use adaptive equipment (such as a recumbent bicycle) because they worry it will make the child stand out more. I would advise parents to weigh the perceived costs against the benefits for the child. (I’m not talking about financial costs.) I have also found that children can be very accepting of others; often the prejudice lies with us adults, not with our children.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate this great holiday.

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.