Fitness is an important aspect of the Special Olympics mission. Physical activity, adequate nutrition and hydration enhance athletes’ sports performance and improve health and overall quality of life. Special Olympics supports a variety of programs to engage athletes and their families, caregivers and friends in year-round fitness, including Unified Fitness Clubs, Fit Families and Friends, and SOfit. Each of these models is unified, so friends and families can participate alongside Special Olympics athletes.
Data collected by Special Olympics demonstrates that fitness programming improves health behaviors for all participants (with and without intellectual disabilities):
37% of all participants increased their level of physical activity; 51% of all participants increased the amount of fruits and veggies in their diets; 45% of all participants increased their water consumption.
Athletes most at risk for cardiovascular disease experienced notable improvements in health outcomes:
- More than a quarter of overweight athletes lost at least 3 pounds
- Overweight athletes with high blood pressure went from 140/95 to 134/90 on average
Special Olympics improves the fitness of athletes by providing tailored tools for individuals, families, and Special Olympics Programs.
For example, our Fit 5 resource series, developed in 2017 and used currently in at least 36 countries, educates and empowers athletes to live a healthy lifestyle by supporting them in three simple goals: 5 days of physical activity per week, 5 fruits and vegetables per day, and 5 bottles of water per day. A set of Fitness Cards and videos have been created to highlight endurance, strength and flexibility exercises that athletes can do at home or as part of practice.
In 2020, Special Olympics developed School of Strength, an interactive online platform that encourages athletes to participate in a fun and engaging training program that they can do in the comfort of their own homes. Led by athletes and developed in partnership with WWE superstar Becky Lynch, this series of videos, a fitness tracker, a coach’s playbook and a caregiver toolkit all contribute to helping athletes focus on nutrition and fitness, getting the most out of their workouts.
Since fitness plays such a vital role in sports performance, it is important to ensure that fitness is a part of every practice and competition. Performance Stations are held near the field of play to support athlete readiness and recovery at competitions. The series of stations educates and activates athletes and their supporters on elements of fitness to help athletes compete at their best and learn how a healthy lifestyle supports athletic performance.
In a 2018 survey, 97% of coaches shared their interest and commitment to bettering athletes’ health and fitness. In response, Special Olympics developed educational training and resources for sports coaches to support fitness activities on and off the field of play.