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Sight loss and sport

Visually impaired individuals are twice as likely to be inactive as sighted individuals

Blind people exercising

Delegates at the Essilor University and College Symposium (6-7 September, Farncombe Estate) heard about the extra barriers that visually impaired individuals face in getting regular physical activity.

Dr Keziah Latham, from Anglia Ruskin University, explained that a self-reported study had found that those with visual impairment were twice as likely to be inactive as sighted individuals.

“We could potentially have a role to play as eye care professionals in promoting physical activity to our patients,” she highlighted.

Visually impaired individuals took an average of 5992 steps per day compared to 9964 daily steps among healthy sighted individuals.

Dr Latham emphasised that inactivity increased the risk of various health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes as well as breast and colon cancer.

Among older individuals, lack of activity boosted the risk of falls and loss of independence.

Dr Latham explained that the main barriers to physical activity among the general population are a lack of motivation and a lack of self-discipline.

She highlighted that UK physical activity guidelines recommended 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.

However, a 2012 survey found that only 67% of men and 55% of women were meeting these physical activity standards.

The same study found that 19% of men and 26% of women were inactive.

She added that visually impaired individuals face the same challenges of lack of motivation and self-discipline that stop sighted people from taking part in exercise, but also experience additional barriers.

Visually impaired people reported feelings of vulnerability when undertaking exercise and decreased energy, as completing daily tasks involves more exertion for someone with visual impairment than for a sighted person.

Dr Latham also highlighted that visually impaired individuals would save asking for help for more essential tasks, for example, they would prefer to ask a friend for help to take them to the doctor than the gym.

A number of programmes are operating to make physical activity more accessible for those with visual impairment.

The international five-kilometre weekend running series, Parkrun, had introduced a UK initiative where guide runners are paired with visually impaired runners.

Dr Latham shared that 113 runners had been paired with guides through the scheme so far.

Tandem biking and tai chi were good exercise options for people with visual impairment, while British Blind Sport also organised a series of activities, Dr Latham shared. 

Image credit: EJ Hersom/Department of Defense