Exercising with a Disability

exercise disabilityExercise provides a host of benefits. It can increase strength and stamina, improve flexibility, reduce pain, help with weight loss, boost mood, and ease symptoms of depression. Even if a disability limits your mobility, you can still reap the benefits of exercise by developing a program that is tailored to your individual needs and abilities.

Exercise falls into three main categories: cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility. No matter what type of disability or physical limitations you have, you can find ways to incorporate all of them into your fitness routine.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise (or a combination of the two), with each workout lasting at least 10 minutes. You should also participate in at least two sessions per week of moderate or high intensity strength training exercises. If your disability makes you unable to meet these guidelines, do as much as you can.

Before you begin exercising, you should discuss it with your doctor or physical therapist. Ask how much exercise you can safely do every day and every week, what types of exercise you should do, what types of activities you should avoid, and whether you should adjust the times that you take any medications. Your doctor or physical therapist may be able to recommend a program, gym, or trainer specifically for someone with your condition.

Many people are self-conscious about their disabilities, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from exercising. Instead of focusing on things you can’t do, look for fun activities that you can. Congratulate yourself on your efforts, and seek support and encouragement from family and friends.

When you begin an exercise routine, start slowly with an activity you enjoy and gradually build up your endurance. Plan a specific time for exercise, and stick to your schedule. It will take about a month for exercising to become a habit. If you are unable to keep up with your schedule, don’t get discouraged; just start again.

If a disability makes you unable to use certain muscles, focus on exercising the muscles that you can control. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend activities and techniques that you can try at a gym or at home.

If you are exercising in a wheelchair, keep your knees at a 90-degree angle. Sit up tall and use your abs to maintain good posture. Many exercises can be done in a wheelchair. Look for basketball, track and field, volleyball, weight lifting, or aerobics programs designed for people who use wheelchairs. You can also work with weights and resistance bands or play video games that incorporate physical activity. Water aerobics classes are another popular choice for people who use wheelchairs.

Warm up and stretch before exercising, and stretch and cool down at the end of your workout. Wear comfortable clothing, and drink plenty of water. To avoid injury, pay attention to your body. If you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or clammy hands, stop exercising.

Need a little inspiration? Check out the reality show Pushgirls. Tiphany Adams is a certified fitness trainer. Mia Schaikewitz is back in the pool, her first love, in addition to adaptive sports. Auti Angel conducts wheelchair dancing workshops at Abilities Expos (as does Chelsie Hill), enters dance contests, and dances in at least one movie.

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