Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Agency 6-20 Middleton Area participated in a 10-week SOfit session this summer in collaboration with Yoga Accessible For All (YAFA), a non-profit specializing in yoga services for individuals with special needs.
Eight athletes and seven Unified partners, most of whom were parents or caregivers of the athletes, participated in the yoga program. As part of the educational component of SOfit, participants also learned about health topics like hydration, stress management, nutrition, and mindfulness during the 10-week program.
The participants had a great time practicing yoga and learning how to incorporate health and wellness into their lives. One athlete started doing yoga with his parents daily and they quickly noticed some of the benefits of a regular yoga practice.
Another athlete lost four pounds over the course of the program and her dad, who participated as a Unified partner, lost over 10 pounds and decreased his blood pressure by 5 points in the brief 10 weeks. They really enjoyed doing yoga and incorporating the educational topics into their daily lives really paid off.
This collaboration was just one of many possible configurations of the SOfit program, which is highly adaptable to the teams, environment, and resources available. Originally designed by Special Olympics Minnesota and later incorporated by Special Olympics programs around the country, SOfit is a Unified approach to improving and protecting health and wellness for people with and without intellectual disabilities.
“The physical activity, space, equipment, and educational topics can all vary to fit the needs and wants of the group. To me, that’s the best thing about SOfit – it is so flexible!” – Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Director of Training, Brittany Hoegh
While many people aren’t nearly as active as they’d like to be in this day and age, it’s well documented that people with intellectual disabilities are even less active than the general population. This is largely due to a lack of access to fitness education and opportunities that fit their needs.
SOfit offers Special Olympics athletes and their caregivers and family members a holistic, personalized look at wellness that hopefully leads to long-lasting changes. Together, athletes and Unified partners are empowered to challenge and change the way they look at diet, daily exercise and lifestyle choices.
Because SOfit is so flexible, each participating group can tailor the program to their needs and goals. “This particular session involved doing yoga at a local high school, but the great thing about SOfit is that it is adaptable to the group that is running it,” said Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Director of Training, Brittany Hoegh. “The physical activity, space, equipment, and educational topics can all vary to fit the needs and wants of the group. To me, that’s the best thing about SOfit – it is so flexible!”
As a point of comparison, another SOfit program is currently under way in Sun Prairie. Agency 6-33 Sun Prairie Schools is focusing more on cardio fitness using equipment like treadmills and elliptical machines.
However a SOfit program ends up looking, participants are encouraged to set a goal for themselves in the beginning of the program and work toward it over the weeks. Teams can choose their lessons and fitness activities based on the goals of their group. Sites can choose a topic to meet the educational component of the program from the SOfit manual or create their own based on one of the four pillars of wellness: nutritional wellness, social wellness, emotional wellness, and physical wellness.
The reality is that many of our athletes only practice their sport once a week, and competition seasons last only a few months. SOfit can help address the gaps throughout the year where athletes might live sedentary lifestyles, putting them at risk for dangerous conditions like obesity, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. SOfit helps keep wellness and overall health as focal points in the lives of the athletes and their families.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can get a SOfit program started in your community, contact Brittany Hoegh today!