Too often people who have a disability are looked at and judged on the tasks they CAN’T do; rather than what they CAN do. Exercise and physical activity is for EVERY body, and is the key factor in improving and maintaining overall health. The benefits of exercise are particularly important for people living with a disability as they tend to live a less active lifestyle than others.
There are currently more than 56 million people in the world living with a disability, and a staggering 58% of those individuals are considered to be obese. My goal as an Exercise Sports Scientist is to encourage as many individuals with a disability as possible to be active in any way and assist in decreasing the above statistics. An individuals’ exercise program does not have to be repetitive with each session they participate in; variety is key in order to maintain their interest and motivation. I ensure programs are changed up each week to incorporate various skills and challenge clients to reach their potential; whilst still having fun.
Regular exercise is also important in maintaining emotional health. People living with a disability experience the same emotions as anyone else; however at times they may be more intense. Feelings such as anger, frustration, confusion and depression can all be suppressed with regular exercise due to the endorphins the body releases when being physically active. I encourage participation in either a 1 on 1 program with a professional or being a part of a group where there is potential to meet new friends. It is important to consider “Physability” – the persons’ physical ability, rather than focussing on what they can’t do; disability. By pushing some boundaries and challenging the individual beyond what they think they are capable of; they become eager to learn more, reach higher goals and continue to improve on their abilities.
The final factor to consider is quality of life – and this is not just for people with a disability. 1 hour of exercise is only 4% of your day, so introducing regular physical activity into a daily routine is only a very small change, but will have a greater positive result on the persons’ overall health compared to those who lead a more sedentary lifestyle.
There are three main types of exercise that someone living with a disability can participate in, particularly for those who have limited mobility and require wheelchairs etc:
Cardio exercise is responsible for raising your heart rate and increasing your endurance. This form of exercise can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, swimming and water aerobics. Exercising in water has been especially beneficial among people with limited mobility, as it is non-weight bearing and supports the body as well as reducing the risk of muscle or joint discomfort/pain. Even if you’re confined to a chair or wheelchair, it’s still possible to perform cardiovascular exercises, and with the help of a professional, a program can be tailored to your needs.
Strength based exercises involve using weights or other resistance such as body weight or bands. The aim of strength exercises is to help build muscle and bone mass, improve balance, and prevent falls. For people who have limited mobility in their legs, the focus will predominately be on strengthening the upper body. Similarly, if they have a shoulder injury or unable to use upper limbs, the focus will be more on strengthening their legs and working on core stability exercises.
Flexibility or better known as stretching can help enhance an individuals’ range of motion, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. These may include a number of stretching exercises or participation in yoga, which has proven to be extremely beneficial. Even for people who have limited mobility in their legs, for example, they may still benefit from stretches and flexibility exercises to prevent or delay further muscle atrophy.
This article was written by Kelsey Moss, her specialised services can be accessed at Planet Fitness Charlestown. Kelsey holds a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science and runs her own business, “Physability” – ability beyond disability.