'Finding what works for me' - a qualitative study of factors influencing community gym participation for young adults with cerebral palsy

Disabil Rehabil. 2023 Jun;45(12):1984-1991. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2022.2083243. Epub 2022 Jun 12.


Purpose: To understand the factors influencing participation in community-based gym exercise for young adults with cerebral palsy (CP).

Methods: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was conducted. Interviews were completed with 39 young adults with CP (15-30 years, GMFCS I-IV) following a peer-supported, gym-based exercise program called FitSkills.

Results: "Finding what works for me" was the overarching theme. Through their gym experiences, young adults with CP identified four interrelated main themes that influenced whether gym participation "worked" for them, or not: (i) psychological factors, (ii) a "social" participation context, (iii) organisational and logistical support, and (iv) cost. The social context of FitSkills was perceived to positively influence psychological health outcomes and attenuate perceived barriers to participation. Organisational support facilitated their initial attendance, while logistical effort and cost affected ongoing or future gym participation.

Conclusions: Social involvement plays a critical role in positive participation experiences in community exercise settings for young adults with CP. Clinicians supporting exercise participation for this group should prioritise intervention strategies that promote social engagement and mental wellbeing. Collaboration between clinicians, community leisure organisations, and funding bodies may be essential to overcome logistical and financial barriers during the transition to adulthood. Implications for rehabilitationThe main factor influencing the attendance, involvement, and ongoing exercise preferences of young adults with cerebral palsy (CP) was the social context of the participation experience.Altering the social environment through peer-mentoring can facilitate participation in the gym.Young adults with CP consider mental wellbeing to be an important motivator and outcome of gym-based exercise participation.Mental wellbeing should be prioritised for health promotion for this group.Collaboration between recreation organisations, health services, clinicians, and consumers to address logistical and financial factors can facilitate positive physical activity participation experiences in community settings.

Keywords: Disability; adolescent; inclusion; physical activity; social context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Palsy* / psychology
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Environment
  • Social Participation / psychology
  • Young Adult