Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities

7 min read
Aug 29, 2023

According to EMD UK, 4 in 5 disabled adults want to be more active. Can online fitness classes offer options for those living with disabilities?

Over 11 million people are living with a disability in the UK and yet many feel excluded from gyms or classes.  Can you offer what gyms are not?

Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities

My life changed immeasurably on January 4th 2018, when I walked into a Les Mills BODYPUMP class.  I didn't know what to expect.  I was overweight, unhealthy and subconsciously already decided I wouldn't stick with it.  The feeling of achievement, social connection, post-workout endorphins and sense of 'taking action' was incredible and has been a part of my life ever since.


Whilst not a physical impairment, as someone living with tinnitus since 2008, it also had a huge impact on my ability to manage my condition.  Throughout each class, with its music and choreo, I wasn't thinking about it, and whilst I can't prove that regular exercise has made a physiological difference in my condition, I genuinely feel that since exercising, it is no longer a detrimental part of my life.

Exercise is POWERFUL and everyone, regardless of ability, disability, physical health or mental health, deserves access to this natural, fun, social and highly beneficial form of 'therapy'.

Disability is a very broad definition, but there are many factors that can prevent anyone from taking up exercise.  In fact, in the UK, about 40% of us do not get the recommended amount of daily exercise and just 13% of us are regular users of gyms.

Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities

There are many reasons why people don't wish to participate in exercise, whether that be the feeling of intimidation, lack of motivation, or financial reasons, but I was curious to know what options are available to people living with disabilities, from physical to mental, who want to get more active, and what barriers can be knocked down.

Beyond the actual specific disability itself, there are additional layers on top of that, that need to be addressed too.

Studies found people living with disabilities also face social barriers, including discrimination and stigma; psychological barriers, including low levels of self-esteem and lack of motivation. Moreover, there exist intra-personal barriers, such as poor body image or fear of injury, and interpersonal barriers, such as lack of support or disapproval from others.

It is an important challenge the industry, both physical facilities and online providers, needs to work together on. It's morally the right thing to do, but if are are to put it into monetary terms, the healthier EVERYONE is, the more money the NHS saves, and I am sure there are online instructors that can specialise in more inclusive adaptive classes, that might be struggling in the competitive world of fitness.

There are an estimated 5.36 million wheelchair users in the UK. There are around 350,000 people who rely on mobility scooters with 47% being over 65. Many people are looking for exciting classes and solutions that fit their specific needs.

Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities

As long as it is tailored, exercise is nearly always a benefit for a number of conditions. In Part One, we looked at the benefits exercise can bring for people suffering from depression, after a study cited in the British Medical Journal concluded: “Exercise is efficacious in treating depression and depressive symptoms and should be offered as an evidence-based treatment option focusing on supervised and group exercise with moderate intensity and aerobic exercise regimes.”

We also looked at how exercise can potentially treat people with alcohol addiction after a study by Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis suggested exercising the recommended amount “appeared to wipe off completely” the inflated risk of cancer death resulting from alcohol.

For part two of Stardio's recent fireside chat, we wanted to focus on physical disabilities. 

We invited Head of Inclusion ukactive Tim Mathias and online instructor, fitness entrepreneur and blogger Elle Linton, to host a talk about where online can fill the gap.

Joining us was Dr Ayaz Bhuta MBE, Double European Champion and Paralympic Gold Medalist Tokyo 2020.

Also, we were joined by Royal British Legion Equality Diversity & Inclusion Officer Stacey Denyer. As two highly successful people living with disabilities, they shared amazing insight into what their experiences have been.

We also invited Ashley Boorman-Wells, from Smash Mind and Body, whose busy online classes (up to 50 people in the winter) are a result of their mental health angle.

Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities


There are many great initiatives in the UK to cater for people living with disabilities, but very often, if someone is living in a remote area, they can be difficult to get to, especially if you don't drive.

There are also great events too. The Special Olympics World Games offer the opportunity to unite the world like no other event can where people with and without disabilities can join together. Then there are events such as the Deaflympics and of course Invictus Games.

I can imagine more events like these, that are perhaps not so targeted towards the fittest of people, but where specialist online 'training' can be offered that results in an event that takes place 'in the real world'. Online has a place to offer more to people with disabilities but it must avoid being the answer to everything. Human connection is essential for all of us and gyms need more support from the government to deliver accessible classes and adaptive equipment. But both online and physical can support each other.

Online fitness classes for people living with disabilities


I would also like to imagine more mixed classes, where people with a range of health conditions can enjoy the same experience. A while back I produced a pilot called ARCADIA. It was brutal, aggressive and frenetic. I would like to produce a version of this, that is more inclusive. Just because a class is adaptive, or entirely chair-based, it doesn't mean it can't lack the same drama, amazing music and animations as any other class. As an industry, we can create classes that cater for more people, rather than excluding each other, maybe with technology that can offer options during the same workout sequence.

Many UK charities offer specialist exercise routines online. Personal trainer Dom Thorpe has created a number of workouts for the UK's MS Society website, specifically designed for people with multiple sclerosis.

Power For Parkinsons offers a range of video on demand classes, as do others, but it can take a lot of motivation (for anyone!) to schedule a workout to do on your own, in comparison to a scheduled live class, either in a gym or online.

I hope you enjoy the video and that it generates some conversation! I would like to say a HUGE thank you to Tim Mathias, Elle Linton, Dr Ayaz Bhuta, Stacey Denyer and Ashley Boorman-Wells for your fascinating insight and time!

It has really made me think about what Stardio can do! more inclusive fitness (either online or in 'the real world'!).

Below the video, I have posted some links you might find useful!

Fireside Chat Part 2

Useful Links

Re-training to offer accessible classes -

ukactive Life In Our Years report -

ukactive Everyone Can -




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