Exercise is important, whether you are disabled or not. Exercise is good for the heart and it can help to strengthen muscles. For some these improvements in strength and cardiovascular health can have an enhancement on our quality of life.
There are also positive mental health benefits. Exercise has a natural ability lift our mood as the endorphins produced exercising can help us to feel happier. In the long-term, in general those who exercise regularly experience less anxiety and less depression.
Exercise also affords opportunities for social engagement. Whether you work out in a gym or choose to join a group of other people for training, it’s a chance to meet new people and make friends.
Research suggests that exercise for disabled people is even more important than for those without a disability. Although these benefits are not exclusive to those with a disability, it is important to recognise mental health issues are more prevalent within the disabled community as a whole, so it is particularly important for those who are disabled to exercise on a regular basis.
The main barriers to exercise
Many barriers remain in the less able-bodied. While not everyone will experience the same obstacles, depending on the disability some are everyday problems. For example, many gyms do not feature accessible spaces or equipment that is set up for disabled people to easily use. Other restrictions, such as a lack of class focus on accommodating training for the disabled, can also contribute to this problem.
Social barriers can also be a problem. The lack of safer, inclusive spaces for disabled exercise can contribute to feelings of exclusion. Then there are personal barriers too, such as the fear of failure or embarrassment, concerns about pain, and the need for motivation.
Everyone will face a different set of circumstances so one exercise that is effective for someone with one type of disability may not work for someone else. However, when it comes to a disability, there are a few general rules to keep in mind when considering adding exercise to your lifestyle. As a general rule, always consult your doctor before making any substantial changes in your activity level.
Start with simple exercises you can do at home to strengthen the body. By using your own weight called ‘resistance training,’ you can begin to develop more tone and improved strength in important muscle groups. If you use a wheelchair, there are lots of chair-based exercises to try, many involving simple equipment such as a resistance band.
Depending on level of mobility, sports such as swimming, can be an excellent idea as for many disabled people, the buoyancy of the water helps to alleviate the pain that can otherwise come from exercising.
Develop a workout plan that suits you
If you live with a disability, finding exercises that work for you can be difficult. Start by identifying the areas where you want to make a change. Would it be helpful if you had a stronger core to help with standing up, or is lower body strength more important? If you have the mobility, do you want to run or play some basic sport?
There may be members of the disabled community in your area that already organise groups for these pursuits; they would be an excellent place to begin.
Plan to start with one or two days of light exercise until you find a pattern that doesn’t leave you feeling too tired. Low-impact exercise such as swimming, some forms of cycling, and even walking can help you to stick with a routine.
If you’re a non-disabled gym goer, why not think how your gym could be more accessible for others. Consider speaking to management about accessibility options for attracting new patrons.
Everyone deserves equal opportunity to exercise, and by taking proactive steps to make the world a place with more widespread access for all, we can all work towards that goal. We should all feel able and encouraged to get active, make friends and see the physical and mental benefits exercise can bring.