Exercise for People Living in a Group Home

In group homes, people who need assistance related to a disability or health condition live together in a supported environment.

Group homes (also sometimes known as supported disability accommodation) are designed to provide the services and support that residents need to live as independently as possible. This arrangement is known as supported independent living.

In Australia, around 17,000 people with a disability live in a group home. Group homes usually accommodate somewhere between two and six residents.


We know getting enough physical activity is vital for anyone to have the best possible health and well-being. But making sure group home residents get enough movement and exercise is especially important.

Why is this the case? Not all, but many people in group homes live there because they have an intellectual disability. This can make it difficult for them to understand the importance of exercise, and to make choices that best support their health and wellbeing.

Research shows people living with an intellectual disability tend to have very low levels of physical activity. One recent paper analysed results from 25 studies looking into sedentary behaviours (time spent sitting or lying down, not including sleep) in people with an intellectual disability. They found that more than 60% of the daily time was spent on sedentary behaviours, including over three hours of screen time.

One 2017 study found fewer than 11% of participants met global physical activity for health recommendations and participants spent an average of 79.4% of their waking time in sedentary behaviours.

Another recent analysis found high rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome and multimorbidity (having several health conditions) in adults with an intellectual disability, along with high levels of sedentary behaviour.

Also, people living in group homes may have a mental health condition and/or be on medications that lead to weight gain. This can make them more likely to experience problems associated with overweight and obesity – such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Exercise is very important for heart and metabolic health and can also help people to manage their weight.


Active support

Getting more physically active doesn’t have to involve structured pursuits like walking, cycling, running, or swimming. It could involve supporting people to be more active in everyday tasks. A good place to start is to look at the group home’s calendar and see where more movement and activity might fit in.

For example, a resident could be supported to:

  • engage in active household chores, such as sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming
  • walk to the shops or library rather than driving
  • get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
Exercise therapy

Structured exercise might also play a part in helping residents have better health. Ideally, people living in a group home should be supported to meet the Australian physical activity guidelines, which recommend adults aged 18 to 64:

  • get 2.5 to 5 hours of moderately intense physical activity (like a fast walk or swimming) per week, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity (like jogging or fast cycling), or a combination of these
  • do activities that build muscle strength at least two days per week
  • spend less time sitting.

An accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) can design programs to help residents work towards this goal.


People living in group homes can be faced with a range of issues that affect their ability to be active. People with an intellectual disability or mental health condition, for example, may need support to exercise safely and effectively. Physical health conditions or behaviours of concern could also affect exercise program design.

AEPs are university-qualified health professionals with the expertise to design exercise programs for people with disabilities and medical conditions. They create safe, effective exercise programs, tailored to each person’s needs, goals, and preferences.

When working with people who live in a group home, an AEP might deliver exercise interventions in a clinic, the home, or a community setting. They can also build the capacity of support workers to safely and effectively support a resident in completing their exercise program when the AEP isn’t present. When support workers are able to encourage the completion of an individual or group exercise program that the AEP has implemented, it can help ensure residents engage in activity on enough days of the week for it to be effective.

If your loved one is living in a group home, you can ask the house manager about the support worker team’s capacity to help your loved one engage in more physical activity. You can also ask for support workers to be trained by the AEP who has assessed the exercise needs of your loved one if needed. If your loved one has NDIS funding, they may be able to use it to access assessment and exercise therapy with an AEP.

When looking for an AEP, it’s a good idea to check if they have experience working with people with intellectual disability, understand the group home dynamics and can demonstrate positive behaviour support.

Click here to find an exercise physiologist near you.

Written by Amanda Semaan and Kara Foscholo. Amanda and Kara are Accredited Exercise Physiologists and Co-Directors of Active Ability, whose mission is to support people with disability to achieve the best possible independence, health, and quality of life.