Seven inclusive sport activities

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Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Bupa UK
21 September 2022
Next review due September 2025

Are you looking for ways to get active? Taking part in sport or physical activity can be a challenge if you have limited mobility or a disability. But, there are many ways you can build movement and physical activity into your routine.

Here, I list seven inclusive sports and activities, and explore the health benefits of being active.

a disabled person swimming

How can sport and exercise benefit me?

You can benefit from exercise, no matter what your ability is, or how old you are. Research has shown that it can strengthen your muscles and bones and help you to stay a healthy weight. Finding a sport that you enjoy can also be a fun way to boost your activity levels and keep fit.

Exercise isn’t just good for you physically. The mental health and wellbeing benefits of exercise are also well known. It helps to:

  • improve your sleep
  • improve concentration
  • reduce the risk of depression
  • boost your confidence and social skills

What type of sports are inclusive for people with disabilities?

Here are seven inclusive activities that you can try.

1. Swimming

Swimming has lots of health benefits and is fully inclusive. Swimming pools need to be accessible to wheelchair users by law. They have special equipment (hoists) to help people with limited mobility to access the water. As water supports your bodyweight, it can give you a sense of freedom as you float or swim in the water. It’s also a low-impact sport. This means it doesn’t put a lot of strain on your joints and muscles.

2. Basketball

People with different disabilities play basketball. It’s a great cardio activity, and it has lots of health benefits. For example, it will help you increase muscle strength, especially if you’re a wheelchair user. If you’re looking to take part in a team sport, basketball could be a great activity for you. Some basketball clubs also offer supportive aids, like ear defenders (headphones that reduce external noise), depending on your needs.

3. Tennis

There are different types of tennis that are suitable for people with a range of physical disabilities, including wheelchair users. Tennis is also a popular sport for people who are partially sighted or blind in the UK. You play with a tennis ball that makes a noise so you can hear where it bounces when you hit the ball. As well as being a good cardio workout, tennis can also benefit your self-confidence, and reduce stress levels. Wheelchair tennis has the same rules as tennis, except the ball can bounce twice. Sensory tennis is also an option for people with complex disabilities.

4. Badminton

Badminton’s popularity as a sport is growing among people with a range of disabilities. Para badminton is now included in the Paralympic games. Playing badminton can help to reduce anxiety and improve your heart health. Badminton is also a social sport, and it can be a great way to connect with other people. For wheelchair users, it can also be a good way to strengthen your upper body muscles.

5. Rugby

Rugby is a full contact team sport for people of all genders with a disability. This means you make contact with other players during play. Wheelchair rugby is played indoors in teams of four players. You score a try (goal) if you carry the ball across the line of the goal area. The team with the most tries wins. Playing rugby can improve your upper body strength and also help to reduce stress. It could be a great option if you like fun and fast-paced team sports.

6. Goalball

Goalball can be played by people with a range of disabilities. It is particularly popular with people who are partially sighted or blind. Goalball is played in two teams, made up of three players. The aim is to score a goal by bowling the ball along the floor so that it crosses the other teams goal line. The ball has bells inside which can help everyone playing to locate the ball during the game. Goalball can improve your cardiovascular fitness and also increase upper body strength.

7. Skiing

If you like snow sports, skiing might be a great activity to try. It can help you to build muscle and is a great way to meet other people. Adapted ski equipment is available, to enable people with different disabilities to take part in snow sports.

If you are partially sighted or blind, there are headsets you can wear that will keep you and your ski guide in contact while skiing. Or, you may prefer to ski with a guide either behind or in front of you.

Wheelchair users can also use bi-skis, which allow you to be seated during skiing. Three and four-track skis are a good option if you can stand but need support to keep your balance. Lots of indoor snow centres now have adaptive snow sport sessions, so why not find your local centre and get involved!

How much exercise should I be doing?

It’s recommended that adults with a disability do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. This type of activity raises your heart rate, and makes you feel warmer. What’s important is to move more, whatever activity you choose. The more you can do, the greater the benefits are likely to be.

If you don’t exercise often, start slowly to build up your fitness. Listen to your body and get active at a pace that you feel comfortable with. Warming up before and after exercising can also help to reduce your risk of injury.

Where can I find out more about inclusive sport?

The Activity Alliance, a charity acting as a voice for disabled people in sport and activity, has lots of helpful advice to help get you started. They also have an online search tool to help you find inclusive gyms in your local area.

If you want to find an activity you can do at home or in your area, visit the Parasport website. This is an online space where you can search for inclusive activities, clubs and opportunities in your local area. Getting started and then staying motivated can sometimes be hard. But there are lots of ways to build all kinds of activity into your lifestyle. The most important thing to remember is to have fun.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

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Dr Sarah Griffiths (she/her)
Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Bupa UK

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