Surf therapy is a viable therapeutic option to improve physical fitness among children living with physical disabilities due to cerebral palsy, a study says.
The findings of the study, “Effectiveness of surf therapy for children with disabilities,” were published in Disability and Health Journal.
Previous studies have shown that surfing can have several health benefits, ranging from improvements in heart and lung function to increased strength and physical fitness.
However, few studies have investigated the potential benefits of surfing for children with physical disabilities associated with certain neurodevelopmental disorders, including cerebral palsy (CP) and autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island set out to evaluate the effects of an eight-week surf therapy program on several parameters of physical fitness. The program was targeted to children with physical disabilities associated with ASDs, CP, Down syndrome, Dandy-Walker syndrome, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
A group of children participating in an eight-week unstructured pool playgroup served as a reference for comparison with children participating in the surf therapy program. Statistical analyses were used to compare overall physical fitness between the two groups of children.
All physical fitness parameters that were analyzed before and after both interventions were selected from the Brockport Physical Fitness Test (BPFT).
A total of 71 children — 18 girls and 53 boys with a mean age of 12.6 years — participated in the eight-week surf therapy program. Meanwhile, 20 children — eight girls and 12 boys with a mean age of 11.1 years — participated in an unstructured aquatic playgroup program.
Results showed that children who completed the eight-week surf therapy program had significant improvements in core strength — including abdominal, back, and pelvic muscle strength — upper body strength, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory endurance.
After the program, these children also had a significant reduction in the total amount of body fat and fat free mass, together with a significant increase in bone mineral density. Bone mineral density is a measure of bone density. Lower bone mineral density is associated with higher bone fragility and greater propensity to fractures.
Children who completed the eight-week unstructured aquatic playgroup program also had significant improvements in all parameters analyzed. Statistical analyses found no significant differences in overall physical fitness nor in any of the individual fitness parameters analyzed between the two groups of children.
“Our analyses indicate that both the surfing group and the unstructured pool-play group made significant improvements in physical fitness after an eight-week program,” the researchers said.
Nevertheless, according to the investigators, this study demonstrated “that a surfing intervention is feasible, as well as beneficial to the physical fitness of children with disabilities.”
“Based on the fitness testing and feedback from participants and parents, it appears that a surfing intervention can be effective in improving the lives of children with disabilities. We had no untoward events occur and therefore health and physical education departments might consider incorporating surfing into their curriculum as a way to provide variety,” they concluded.