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Sunday, June 25, 2017

ACAC joins U.N. effort to help the disabled


The United Nations wants everyone to have the chance to be fit and healthy regardless of ability or disability, and it’s trying out its ideas at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers.
The local health club has joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to test a program that trains staff to attract and serve more people with disabilities.
“UNESCO decided that as a world, a country and a community, we need to reach out to persons with disabilities to help them with wellness,” said Kelly Kyriacopoulos, director of ACAC’s Physician Referred Exercise Program.
“Everyone knows they need exercise, just like everyone knows that smoking is unhealthy. A lot of times the problem is that someone with disabilities feels self-conscious about being in a club situation,” she said.
The program, Universal Fitness Innovation and Transformation, or UFIT, is being tested in four health clubs across the country, including ACAC’s location at Albemarle Square and its club in Timonium, Maryland.
UFIT programs also are debuting in Ireland and Peru. The programs include specialized training for personal trainers and club managers to serve those with Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and spina bifida.
ACAC’s program will focus on aiding Parkinson’s patients and those with intellectual disabilities. The lessons learned, Kyriacopoulos said, also apply to those with other disabilities.
“We have a lot of the training in place already and we serve a wide variety of people,” she said. “UFIT is a different tack, but it’s really not that great of a stretch for us.”
Tom Vandever is executive director of the Charlottesville-based Independence Resource Center, which helps people with disabilities live as independently as possible. He said the program is welcomed.
“In the last 10 or 15 years, there has been a lot of innovation in providing accessible training facilities, but most of it has been at municipal levels,” said Vandever, a former mayor of Charlottesville. “As critical as the technical aspect of providing training is, embracing the concept that everyone should have access is even more critical.”
Critical is a word researchers often use to describe the need for exercise programs for the disabled.
People with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer than adults without disabilities, according to a report by the Public Health Institute’s Center on Disability.
“Nearly half of all adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity,” wrote James Rimmer, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Adults with disabilities who get no physical activity are 50 percent more likely to have chronic diseases than those who get the recommended amount of physical activity.”
Rimmer’s research noted that people with disabilities have “a long history of being excluded from planning programs and services that directly affect them.” That includes health and exercise programs.
“Once aware of the gap, often non-disabled experts, program planners and other professionals will attempt to develop, implement and evaluate program activities to rectify the situation,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, these efforts can have unintended consequences.”
Vandever said adapting exercise regimens to meet physical abilities and setting goals are crucial. So is providing a supportive environment.
“If you have a marathoner in a wheelchair, you still train for endurance but you focus on upper arms and upper body strength,” Vandever said. “That can be done with machines or even barbells, which are very adaptable. The main thing is to have an environment that’s accepting so that the athlete feels comfortable training.”
Kyriacopoulos noted that ACAC has long offered programs designed for seniors and those with arthritis, as well as classes for Parkinson’s patients.
“More and more medical research shows the benefit of exercise and gross motor movement in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s and for improving quality of life,” she said. “That was a major factor in selecting this group for the [UFIT] pilot program.”
For Larry Hofmann, a Parkinson’s patient who has been a member of ACAC for five years, the program has proved perfect.

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