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Mencap, the leading voice for learning disability, has launched a fitness challenge to increase sport participation among individuals who have been deterred from being active.  After watching the inspirational coverage on BBC Breakfast, FitPro wanted to get in touch and find out more.

The Round the World Challenge sees participants receive a ‘passport’ – the number of hours of activity they do is equated in miles, allowing them to either ‘travel’ around the UK (20 hours), Europe (40 hours), or the world (100 hours). The participants then receive a postcard when they reach a landmark destination.


Statistics from Sport England revealed that the number of children with learning difficulties partaking in sport is at an all-time low. It also measured that 43% of adults with learning difficulties are inactive, compared to the national average of 25%. This demographic is twice as likely to become obese, and five times more likely to be morbidly obese than the general population.

Mencap has worked closely with a number of local community gyms and leisure centres to launch The Round the World Challenge and they have all supported the programme. Local communities have also been very receptive and a number of them have shown support by providing insight into becoming a member of a gym.

Ruth Owens, strategic development manager for Mencap, said, “The programme is improving the health, well-being and quality of life of participants, impacting significantly on participants’ mental health. A major aim was to increase the daily activity of participants and there is evidence that, for some people, this is extending beyond the programme.”

Since June 2015, The Round The World Challenge has engaged more than 1,000 Mencap members (47% female and 53% male) and they have achieved more than 33,000 hours of activity through the programme, which equates to each participant taking part in around one hour of activity each week for a year.

 Are the fitness industry doing enough?

Owens, continued, “Less than 17% of people with a learning disability play sport at least once a week, compared with almost 40% of the general population. This is down to a number of factors. Firstly, access to activities that offer the appropriate support for people with a learning disability; fitness centres may not provide the right equipment or have enough trained staff to meet the demands of helping someone with a disability.”

Mencap noted that entering a fitness space or physically taking part in fitness can be an intimidating prospect – often individuals lack confidence and worry about what other people think. Sporting activities can be expensive, or are perceived to be, and a large majority of individuals rely on funds from benefit support.

Owens said in relation to progress in the fitness industry, “There’s clearly a long way to go, but we are seeing some excellent examples of sporting activities being adapted for people with a learning disability. Mencap can offer support for those interested in making their gyms more inclusive.”

Owens adds, “It’s clear to see that this challenge has already begun to break barriers and we hope that with greater awareness comes greater activity, resulting in a more inclusive, happy and healthier community.”

 We thank Mencap for all its efforts in striving towards this change.

If you would like further information on how to improve your gym’s accessibility for individuals who have learning difficulties, get in touch with Mencap at:


To get involved with the challenge, visit: