I read in your acknowledgements that you were happy to be done with your studies at the time.

“Yes. I always want to learn, but mainly what I want to know myself, and that isn’t always what the school wants. So I was glad it was over and I could just start working.”

Why physiotherapy?

“I like to exercise, as do many physiotherapists. And I thought this was a fun, active way to help people. During my studies, I did an internship at a school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities. That was a lot more fun than I ever imagined. It’s often a huge puzzle to find out what exactly is going on. You have to adapt to the tempo of the person you’re working with. That means you have to use a lot of creativity and fun to get people on board.”

Strength training for people with a disability: how does that work in practice?

“You do a lot of observing. They can’t do many things in terms of motor skills, so if you want to train something you have to activate it in a unique way. That also means gaining trust. They often have more complex problems, so it’s like a puzzle as well.”

That’s a bit more challenging than yet another case of mouse arm, isn’t it?

“I thought so. But after working as a physiotherapist for adults with intellectual disabilities for ten years, I wanted to deepen my expertise and I decided to pursue further education. That would allow me to become a policy adviser, teacher or researcher. The latter seemed interesting to me because then I could look for answers to my questions. More puzzle-solving, but in a different way. So I started my PhD.”

What did you think of that?

“The best part is that you’re discovering something new at a high level. I stopped working for two years to really do it properly. I had already heard that if you do your PhD part-time, you’ll actually be too busy and won’t have time for all the side tasks, like courses and conferences. In the end, you just have to finish it and that means plodding on until you get there. I have a family, so that was good planning as far as when to start and when not to, and then letting go.”

And how about the less enjoyable moments?

“I currently have an article which has already been rejected multiple times. That’s tough. You have something interesting, and then no one wants it. And after each rejection you also have to do work to resubmit it to another journal. One journal thinks the target group isn’t interesting, and the other thinks the topic is just a bit too specific.”

 What did you tell the hairdresser when they asked what you do in your everyday life?

“That people with an intellectual disability are more likely to have health problems and we’re researching whether strength training is possible for them, in order to improve their health. And I’m working on the first step: seeing if it’s possible.”

Is krachttraining effectiever dan bijvoorbeeld cardio?

“A combination is best. But with cardio you notice that they’ll stop as soon as they start to sweat a little or feel their heart beat faster. Strength training is lifting something ten times, followed by a break. It’s a bit easier to get them to do that.”

So, it is possible?

“We’ve put together a set of exercises with alternatives that many people with intellectual disabilities can do to get a total body workout. An intensive strength training programme is certainly possible with those exercises, but it requires intensive supervision.”

Was the hypothesis that they could do it on their own?

“That was my hope, but it didn’t happen. The trainer couldn’t leave them by themselves.”

How will society benefit from your thesis?

“I think it’s great to show that people with intellectual disabilities can do this, too. And it opens up possibilities to look at how we can improve their health without the need for medications. Healthcare has evolved so much that they’re living just as long as the rest of the population. Their life expectancy was much shorter 30 years ago. If they’re in better shape, they can do more on their own, they’ll have more control over their life and their quality of life will increase.”

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