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Inclusive Health


Athletes performing squats in a gym.
Everyone should have the opportunity to be healthy. Special Olympics is working to make health inclusive by reducing health disparities for people with intellectual disabilities.

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.

School of Strength trainers and athletes standing together in a group holding a WWE championship belt.

School of Strength

Introducing a whole new way to exercise, featuring WWE Superstar Becky Lynch. Work out with these videos five times a week to help you stay fit and reach your athletic goals. Watch them in order starting with Video 1. When you can do each exercise in a video correctly, it’s time to move on to the next one.


Fitness is the state of optimal health and performance through adequate physical activity, nutrition, and hydration.

Fitness Advisory Committee

Special Olympics engages experts and practitioners to support the successful development and implementation of fitness in the areas of physical activity, nutrition, and fitness through sport.

Cecilia Ancalmo

Development Officer for Central America, International Tennis Federation

Dr. Linda Bandini

Professor, Pediatrics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center/University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School; Principal Investigator of the Healthy Weight Research Network for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Dr. Peter Bukhala

Director, Research and Postgraduate Support and Associate Professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Sports Science at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology

Catherine Carty

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair Manager in Inclusive Sport, Munster Technological University

Dr. Carol Curtin

Associate Director of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center; Co-Director of the Healthy Weight Research Network for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Ayoub Deboub

Special Olympics Health Messenger and Athlete, Special Olympics Ireland

Dr. Keith Diaz

Florence Irving Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, Director of the Exercise Testing Laboratory and the Wearable Device Reading Center at the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health (Columbia University)

Kilian Fisher

Director of International Public Affairs, IHRSA, The Global Health & Fitness Association and Global Health & Fitness Alliance

Monica Forquer

President, Active Health LLC
DrPH Candidate, George Washington University

Banele Makhonco

Special Olympics Athletics Athlete, Basketball and Athletics Coach, and Athlete Input Council Representative, Special Olympics South Africa

Aiden McNeese

Special Olympics Athlete and Fitness Captain, Special Olympics Colorado

Graham Melstrand

Executive Vice President of Community Health and Wellness, American Council on Exercise

Tom Norton

Special Olympics Athletics Coach, Special Olympics British Columbia; Board Director Coaching, Association of Canada

Dr. Maged Ossama Aly

Association of Primary Education and Research (APER)Nutrition Specialist, Alex Knee Center for Sports Medicine and Injuries; Global Representative of Professionals in Nutrition for Exercise and Sport (PINES) of Egypt; Secretary-General, Alexandria Physicians Nutrition Association

Dr. Katrina Piercy

Director for the Division of Prevention Science in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), United States Department of Health and Human Services; Dietitian Officer, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

Dr. Heidi Stanish

Professor in the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences,
University of Massachusetts Boston, Fitness Advisor, Special Olympics

Dr. Viviene Temple

Professor in the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria; Head Coach, Special Olympics Active Start and FUNdamentals Program, University of Victoria

Carly Wright

Vice President, Advocacy & Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, SHAPE America - the Society of Health And Physical Educators

Crystal Zabka-Belsky

Director of Nutrition, Exercise & Health Promotion, OMNI Behavioral Health; Special Olympics Nebraska Health Advisory Committee Member; Professor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Sports Nutrition Consultant, Gatorade Sports Science Institute