Special Olympics research on fitness models was profiled in the Disability and Health Journal, the official Journal of the American Association on Health and Disability. Globally, heart disease is a leading cause of disease and death in the population. People with intellectual disabilities (ID) are at a particularly increased risk for heart disease compared to people without disabilities. In the general population, behavioral interventions like fitness and nutrition programs have proven to effectively decrease heart disease risk by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and weight, increasing physical activity, and improving diet. However, very few opportunities exist for people with ID to participate in community-based health interventions.
Special Olympics (SO) fitness models were designed by SO Programs with several intentions: (1) Improve athletic performance (2) Increase physical activity (3) Promote inclusivity in the community, and (4) Improve nutrition. Three of these models (SOFit, Unified Fitness Club, and Fit Families and Friends) were evaluated to understand their potential effectiveness in reducing risk for heart disease.
Results from 383 athletes and 281 unified partners showed reductions in weight and blood pressure. Among participants who started fitness programming at a high risk for developing heart disease, the strongest reductions in blood pressure readings were observed. SO fitness models show significant promise as an intervention to reduce the risk for heart disease among people with ID.
For more details, please read the study here.
 The high risk group was defined as having high systolic and diastolic blood pressure and weight at baseline.