Department for Health

DisAbility Sport & Health (DASH)

Why do we research this area?


Man in wheelchair

— We investigate the benefits from regular physical activity across the full range of physical disabilities.


There are over ten million people with a limiting long-term impairment or disability in Great Britain, with the most commonly reported impairments being physical disabilities that affect mobility. Such conditions are associated with more sedentary lifestyles and early-onset chronic disease, with spinal-cord injured paraplegics being four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and twice as likely to suffer a heart attack.

Despite this, the Chief Medical Officer’s report (2010) on health-related physical activity highlighted: “A good understanding of the health and performance benefits derived from physical activity by persons with disabilities is still limited due to a lack of research. The evidence that physical activity provides the general health and fitness benefits frequently reported in populations without these disabilities (e.g., improvements in physical fitness, biomarkers for chronic disease, physical independence, health-related quality of life) is particularly limited.”

Despite the personal and practical challenges that arise, individuals with physical disabilities have incredible abilities and achieve incredible feats. There are an abundance of such examples from military veterans returning to full operational duties following amputation to Paralympians winning medals in major events.

What do we do?

Our research aims to investigate the health and performance benefits derived from regular physical activity across the full range of physical disabilities, as well as to investigate the motives and barriers to physical activity among these populations. Findings translate into real world applications, having a positive impact on the physical activity, health and wellbeing of persons with disabilities at all levels.

Our staff and research students undertake a range of research projects with the following objectives:

  • Understand the biological mechanisms by which physical activity protects against chronic disease among disabled groups.
  • Inform the design of assistive technology to enhance mobility and independence.
  • Understand the motives and barriers for health behaviours among disabled groups.
  • Inform the design of acute and long-term exercise training programmes for military amputees.
  • Inform training programmes for elite Paralympians, maximizing performance and reducing injury incidence.

Examples of our research

Project title Aim/findings People and partners Funder
Age UK 'Inspire and Include' Project Evaluation To evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of Age UK's 'Inspire and Include' sport and physical activity intervention for older, disabled adults. Age UK
Quantifying Physical Activity Levels in Manual Wheelchair Users To develop a valid and reliable tool for the objective assessment of Physical Activity Energy Expenditure (PAEE) in Manual Wheelchair Users (MWU).  
Physical Activity and Chronic Disease in Manual Wheelchair Users To investigate the biological mechanisms by which physical activity protects against chronic disease, as well as the psychological barriers and motives for health behaviours in Manual Wheelchair Users (MWU). The Whorrod Trust
Exercise Rehabilitation in Military Amputees To investigate the efficacy of exercise rehabilitation programmes and novel interventions for enhancing the health, function and pain management among military amputees. The Medlock Trust
Risk Factors for Musculoskeletal Injury in Paralympic Athletes To investigate the nature, incidence and risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries among Paralympic athletes during training and competition. Brazilian Higher Education Authority