Exercise is for Everyone: How to Stay Active with a Physical Disability

It’s true; exercise is for everyone regardless of your age, height, weight, and physical abilities. Rather than thinking of your physical disability as a hindrance to getting active, frame it as just another daily activity you adjust to meet your needs. Being disabled, you’ve likely had to make several adjustments to your daily life, but now it has become the norm. Your first task is to find activities that can be performed regardless of your physical limitation. Avoid thinking in terms of “I wish I could play basketball” or “I used to run.” With the right combination of skills, equipment, and people, you can do anything you set your mind to. Read on to understand not only the barriers to physical activity, but ways you can get started.

Know the Facts

It’s important to develop healthy exercise habits at a young age. By now, we’ve all heard how important it is to stay physically active, but how much of an effect does it really have? Disabled adults who don’t get any physical activity are 50 percent more likely to develop chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. With this in mind, only half of those who are still able to perform some sort of activity do so, ignoring the “wonder drug” that is physical activity. It is recommended that you aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity each week, starting slow based on your current level of fitness and activity to experience benefits such as improved physical health, improved lung and heart function, greater independence, better performance in daily activities, and a boost in mental health.

Know the Barriers

Research has indicated that those with a disability often experience three kinds of barriers to physical activity: individual-level, social-level, and environmental. At an individual level, many people with disabilities get stuck on the belief that their disability is a barrier, when in reality, it isn’t. However, many have a fear of falling and developing tight muscles, while the most common barrier is experiencing pain as a result of prolonged movement and activity. The most cited social-level barrier is a lack of opportunities for sports and activities catered to those with a disability, as well as the belief that owners and employees of fitness centers view accessibility as unimportant. Lastly, environmental factors include a lack of adaptive equipment in fitness facilities, as well as limited opportunity for participation in physical activity.

Know the Options

The good news is that just about every sport and activity is adaptive, and the adjustments are relatively simply. For example, adaptive cycling involves nothing more than adjusting and modifying the bicycle to meet the needs of each individual rider. Disabilities aren’t created equal, and neither are the modifications. Bicycles can be outfitted for amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, hemiplegics, sight-impaired, cerebral palsy, and so forth. Some of the adjustments include two brakes on one lever, a holster for an above knee amputee, and hand cycles for those with lower-limb immobility issues such as MS or a spinal cord deformity. Other adaptive sports include swimming, basketball, golf, archery, rafting, running, tennis, yoga, and volleyball to name a few.

As mentioned earlier, many people with disabilities feel like fitness centers don’t accommodate their needs. While this isn’t the case in every instance, there isn’t any reason why you can’t create your own gym in the comfort of your home. With a few key pieces of equipment, you can have a decent home gym with minimal cost. In addition, sports aren’t the only thing that can be adjusted. Activities such as painting, photography, writing, and gardening can all be adapted. Using gardening as an example, there are tools with large grips, fist grips, long handles, and lightweight options. Raised beds are great for those who can’t bend or are in a wheelchair.

As you can see, exercise truly is for everyone. While there are certainly barriers to physical activity for those with a disability, there is no such thing as a permanent barrier. All that is left for you to do is pick a sport or activity you are interested in and get moving.

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