Physical Exercise for the Disabled: Barriers and Benefits
For a non-disabledindividual, "exercise" is something too often taken for granted. When you interact with the world in an unimpaired manner, it is easy to lose sight of the true value of some activities. Many of us know that exercise is "good for us" and that we should exercise more, but how many times have you heard someone complain "I don't want to go to the gym today"? For an individual who experiences a disability, exercise can range from being difficult to nearly impossible in some forms. Not only are there many barriers in place for disability-friendly exercise, but able-bodied fitness groups rarely think to turn their attention to fostering a better environment for others.
However, exercise can be quite valuable for a person with disabilities on multiple levels. While there is still much work to be done regardingbreaking down some of the barriers in society to allow for broader opportunities for exercise, there are things you can do on your own, too. One only needs to look at the Paralympics to see that people with disabilities can achieve just as many incredible feats of athleticism as an able athlete. So, what's the real story when it comes to exercise for the disabled? Here's everything you need to know.
The key benefits of exercise for the disabled
Let's start with what everyone always wants to know about exercise: what's it good for and why should it be a part of your life? Disabled individuals may especially want to knowthe answer to this question. The good news: there are broad benefits, and in many cases, even a small but regular amount of exercise can help you see some of them.
First up, and arguably some of the most important reasons to exercise: it's good for your heart, andit can help to strengthen your muscles. For some classes of disability, this chance to improve one's strength and cardiovascular health can have a substantial influence on qualityof life. Ultimately, all forms of exercise help in this area to varying degrees. For those who can sustain a consistent level of effort with an appropriate amount of resistance, strengthening exercises can allow you to feel real gains. In some cases, exercisecan contribute to a reduction of inflammation and a corresponding decrease in pain.
Next are the positive mental health benefits. Exercise is not just a pathway to feeling better about yourself and your body, but it alsohas a natural ability to aid in lifting our mood. The endorphins generated by the effort of exercise can help us to feel happier. In the long-term, those who exercise regularly experience less anxiety, less depression, and a greater sense of fulfilmentwith life.
Finally, exercise provides unique opportunities for social engagement. Whether you canwork out in a gym or you choose to join a group of other, similar people for training, it's a chance to meet new people and make friends. Together with the other two benefits, this means that exercisecan open up a brand-new world you had no idea existed! The fitness community is one where you'll find tonnes of support and encouragement, too, making it well worth the effort to begin.
The main barriers to exercise one must overcome
While there are many benefits people with disabilities can access through exercise, the unfortunate reality is that many barriers remain. While not everyone experiences the same obstacles, some are everydaystruggles. For example, many gyms do not feature accessible spaces or even equipment that is set up in a way for disabled people to use. This fundamental barrier to exercise, familiarto many public and even some private exercise spaces (such as class-based fitness), can be discouraging. Other restrictions, such as a lack of classes focused on training disabled pupils in accommodatingexercise, contribute to this problem.
Social barriers exist, too. In spite of advancements, some stigmas remain, and no one wants to feel like they stand out in the crowd. The lack of safer, inclusive spaces for disabledexercise can contribute to feelings of exclusion and in many cases, may make individuals believe there is no room for them in the world of fitness. That isn't true, though, and breaking down these barriers is just as important an act as fighting for more accessibility. There are some personal barriers, too: the fear of failure or embarrassment, concerns about pain, and of course, there's always the need for some plainold motivation. With the right plan in mind, though, you can overcome many of these barriers to find ways to exercise that work for you.
What are the best exercises for a disabled individual to try?
There is no black and white answer to this questionsince every individual will face a slightly different set of circumstances. Exercise that is effective for an individual with one type of impairment may not be a good idea for someone in a different situation. With that said, there are a few general rules you can keep in mind when considering adding some exercise toyour lifestyle. One note before we dive into that: always consult your regular doctor before making any substantialchanges in your activity level. This advice goes for everyone — alwaysmake sure your body is healthy enough to endure the stress of exercise.
Start with simple exercises you can do at home to strengthen centralareas of the body. By using your ownweight in something called "resistance training," you can begin to develop more tone and improved strength in critical muscle groups. Exercises such as the "sit to stand," knee raises, and even bicep curls with hand weights can all help. If you use a wheelchair, there is a whole world of chair-based exercises out there for you to try, manyinvolving simpleequipmentsuch as a resistance band. Depending on your level of mobility, some sports — such as swimming — can be an excellent idea. For many, the buoyancy of the water helps to alleviate the aches that come from exercise on dry land. Water aerobics can be the ideal way for you to develop better cardio health while having fun at the same time.
Developing a workout plan that suits your body
If you live with a disability, finding a way to approach exercise that works with your lifestyle can be a challenge — but with the right perspective, it can be an exciting adventure. 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 critical? If you have the mobility, do you want to run or play some basicsport? There may be members of the disabled community in your area that already organisegroups for these pursuits; consider exploring them for an excellentplace to begin.
Remember that everyone has limits, and motivation is no substitute for periods of rest and recovery. Plan to start with one or two days of light exercise until you find a pattern that doesn't leave you feeling too drained. Low-impact exercisessuch as swimming, some forms of cycling, and even walking can all help you to establish the discipline necessary to stick with a routine. From there, explore other activities and investigate new ideas for expanding your exercise horizons. No matter the type of disability you experience, there is exercise out there that you cansucceed at doing!
Set goals, work hard, and find your new normal
If you're a non-disabledperson, take a moment to look around the world in which you live and consider how it could be more accessible for others. Are you a member ofa gym? Consider speaking to management about accessibility options for attracting new patrons! Everyone deserves an equal chance at exercise, and by taking proactive steps to make the world a place with more widespread access for all, we can work towards that goal.
For those who experience disability, consult your physician and consider how exercise could have a positive impact on your life. Whether you decide to take a dip in the pool or you find another type of workout routine that works well for you, everyone can experience the benefits exercise has in store. Who knows? Perhaps you'll even find a new passion as you search for activitiesyou can explore.
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