The UK's Chief Medical Officers recently published the first ever guidelines on physical activity for disabled children and young people. The summary press release can be found here, and the full evidence review and infographic can also be viewed on GOV.UK. 

In summary, the new guidelines recommend disabled children and young people: 

  • Undertake 120 to 180 minutes of aerobic physical activity per week at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity – this can be achieved in different ways (for example, 20 minutes per day or 40 minutes three times per week) through activities such as walking or cycling 
  • Complete challenging, but manageable, strength and balance activities three times per week which are particularly beneficial for muscle strength and motor skills – for example, indoor wall climbing, yoga, and modified sports such as basketball or football 
  • When first starting to exercise, build up slowly to avoid injury 
  • Break down their exercise into bite-size chunks of physical activity throughout the day to make it more manageable. 

The guidelines are a welcome step forward. It’s great to see the benefits of sport and physical activity for disabled children and young people evidenced in black and white, adding further credibility to our work and an emphasis on the need for greater provision. However – based on our experience, and conversations with our clubs, coaches, and parents/carers – we recognise that the guidelines may leave some disabled young people and their families with a few questions. 

Is this the first time that there have been CMO guidelines for physical activity for disabled children and young people? 


My initial reaction is astonishment that this is the first time this sort of thing has been stated, and amazement that anyone should think that any of this is anything other than blindingly obvious. However, I’m encouraged to think that the tide is turning in a positive direction.

Parent and Club Leader 

The team responsible for producing the guidelines have acknowledged this shortcoming and, on their webinar launching the guidelines, they apologised for not including disabled children and young people in their previous guidelines for physical activity which were released in 2019. They were also keen to stress that there is a lot more to be done in this space, which we would certainly agree with. 

Why are there separate guidelines for disabled children and young people?

Many parents we spoke to also questioned the need for separate guidelines – under existing guidelines, all children and young people are advised to be active for 60 minutes per day, whereas disabled children and young people are now advised to be active for 20 minutes per day: 

Looking at it, I don’t understand why it would be different (for disabled children). Do they not think it’s covered by their general child guidance? 


All children should be encouraged to do as much exercise as possible. No limit should be set, and disabled children shouldn’t be separated from [non-disabled] children.


The research team were quick to point out that their findings are evidence-based and therefore they can say that they have the evidence to definitively prove that 20 minutes of physical activity per day is beneficial for disabled children and young people. However, they haven’t yet had the chance to go further than that and are not able to produce conclusions on the benefits of extended periods of physical activity. We, and they, would like to see this explored further.

The guidelines do a great job of highlighting the positive benefits of sport and physical activity and make the prospect of doing some regular physical activity less daunting and more inviting, but they should not limit how much activity a disabled child or young person undertakes, especially if they are already very active.  If parents and carers are already confident and able to support disabled children and young people to be as active as they want to be then they won’t need to alter what they’re doing because of these guidelines. 

The guidelines also wanted to tackle misinformation about risk or adverse effects for disabled children and young people taking part in sport and physical activity. They suggest that in the right environments, and at the right sessions, disabled children can and should participate in more sport and physical activity. 

What does this mean in practice?

The findings of the report suggest that regular physical activity has physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages, as we would expect. However, it is worth noting that disabled children and young people are less likely to be active than non-disabled children, often because of not knowing what sessions, clubs, and activities are suitable for their needs, or simply because they don’t have enough inclusive and accessible opportunities. 

It is our hope that there will be an increased focus on providing disabled children and young people with the right information and pathways to participation. Access Sport are here to support people to find what works for them through our programmes and across the community sports landscape, and we are always keen to partner with others to create more opportunities to address the growing need for more disability-inclusive sporting opportunities. 

I suppose what I would say is that this message is absolutely spot on. If anything, it underestimates the importance of sport to this group of children and young people. 

 Parent and Club Leader 

All of these are good things and lead us to conclude that the guidelines are best viewed as a starting point – the key thing is to do what works for the child or young person as an individual, based on their needs. 

How will the guidelines translate into more physical activity?

The guidelines and additional findings also clearly highlight the need for more sporting and physical activity opportunities for disabled children and young people to be provided so that the recommendations can be put into practice, and this is echoed by our clubs and parents of disabled young people: 

I would really like to know what is going to happen as a consequence of this. What do they hope to achieve, and how will they go about it?  I do not really understand how these things fit into government planning at a national or local level, and would really like more information about what comes next.

 Parent and Club Leader 

Research from Activity Alliance conducted in partnership with YouGov suggests that only 30% of disabled people agree that disabled people have the same opportunity to be active as non-disabled people. This inequality is further compounded by the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – 72% of disabled people agree that the coronavirus pandemic has made sport and physical activity less fair for disabled people. 

It is clear that disabled children and young people and their families desperately want to reap the benefits of sport and physical activity, but they must be given greater opportunities to be active if these new guidelines are to lead to true impact for individuals and communities across the country. All of this requires more collaboration, more effort and, crucially, more investment and support for accessible and inclusive programmes: 

We are very happy to see the publication of these guidelines – they are a great starting point for more physical activity, and they are fantastic proof-points of the immense benefits which sport and physical activity can bring to disabled children and young people, and their communities.  

However, we must all acknowledge that there is still a vast participation gap between disabled children and young people and their non-disabled peers. 

As such, these guidelines should spur everyone towards greater action, focus, and collaboration. We will continue to work closely with our network of community clubs and our sector partners to provide greater opportunities for everyone to access fun, inclusive, and accessible sport and physical activity, and we welcome support from anyone else who wants to work together to make this happen.

Helen Rowbotham, Access Sport CEO 

The new guidelines alone will not solve the problems or inequalities in the provision of sport for disabled children and young people, but we welcome their publication and will continue to work hard to be part of the solution alongside our amazing clubs, coaches, volunteers, supporters, and sector partners, providing truly accessible and inclusive sporting and physical activity opportunities for all.