Physical activity interventions for adults who are visually impaired: a systematic review and meta-analysis

BMJ Open. 2020 Feb 12;10(2):e034036. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-034036.


Objectives: Compared with sighted individuals, people with visual impairment have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions and lower levels of physical activity. This review aims to systematically review physical activity interventions for those with a visual impairment and to assess their effectiveness.

Design: A systematic review of articles reporting physical activity interventions in visually impaired individuals was conducted. Medline, EMBASE, The Cochrane Library, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, SPORTDiscus and the Physiotherapy Evidence Database were searched in August 2018. Meta-analyses were conducted on randomised controlled trials with the same outcome measure.

Setting: Most interventions were conducted in a group setting, with some including an at-home, self-directed component.

Participants: Following identification of a recent systematic review of physical activity interventions in children, our review focused on adults aged 18 years and older with a visual impairment.

Primary and secondary outcome measures: Outcomes included measures of balance, mobility, mental well-being (eg, quality of life), number of falls, muscle strength, flexibility and gait.

Results: Eighteen papers from 17 studies met inclusion criteria. Physical activity components include falls prevention and/or balance-based activities, walking, tai chi, Alexander Technique, Yoga, dance, aerobics and core stability training. Significant results in favour of the intervention were reported most commonly in measures of functional capacity (9/17 studies) and in falls/balance-related outcomes (7/13 studies). The studies identified were generally small and diverse in study design, and risk of bias was high across several categories for most studies. Meta-analyses indicated non-significant effects of the included interventions on the Timed Up and Go, Chair Sit Test and Berg Balance Scale.

Conclusions: Physical activity interventions in individuals with visual impairment incorporating activities such as tai chi, Yoga and dance can have positive results, particularly in physical measures such as mobility and balance. However, when performing a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, the evidence for effectiveness is less clear. More studies with larger sample sizes, stronger designs and longer follow-up periods are needed.

Prospero registration number: CRD42018103638.

Keywords: preventive medicine; public health; sports medicine.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Movement Techniques
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Vision Disorders / complications
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Vision Disorders / psychology*
  • Visually Impaired Persons / psychology*