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Do individuals with intellectual disabilities have an abnormal physiological response to exercise?


Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) are important consumers of health care, partly due to high prevalence rates of inactivity-related health conditions. So far, adapted physical activity interventions have focused mostly on organizational and behavioural aspects, with disappointing results. In these studies, physiological aspects such as cardiorespiratory capacity or energy cost of activities, were not taken into account or were assumed to be similar to the general population. However, abnormalities in the autonomic response to exercise and higher energy cost of activities have been demonstrated in small and selected samples of the ID population, mostly in people with Down syndrome. The aim of this research proposal is therefore to discover physiological barriers, that influence physical activity and exercise in people with ID. Risks of not knowing about these barriers are fatigue, injury and lack of motivation of people with ID, in a vicious circle leading to loss of functioning and health conditions.
During the outgoing phase, I will unravel (abnormalities in) the autonomic cardiorespiratory response of people with ID, using different sympatho-excitatory tasks. During the return phase, I will investigate absolute and relative energy cost (related to cardiorespiratory capacity) of walking in people with ID, and analyze the association with their physical activity levels.
By revealing an essential missing link, this project is expected to make the difference in what has not been achieved so far: a successful long-term approach to prevent health risks and preserve daily functioning skills, by keeping this population as active and fit as possible. The acquired knowledge will greatly benefit the return host. With this study, I will expand my knowledge and skills, build strong international collaborations, and develop towards the position of a leading, independent researcher with my own research line on physical activity and fitness in people with ID.

Field of science

  • /engineering and technology/environmental engineering/waste management/energy efficiency

Call for proposal

See other projects for this call

Funding Scheme

MC-IOF - International Outgoing Fellowships (IOF)


Dr Molewaterplein 40
3015 GD Rotterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 173 640,30
Administrative Contact
Heleen Evenhuis (Prof.)