Exercising with Physical Disabilities

A disability that leaves you with limited mobility or in a wheelchair is not an acceptable excuse for being completely inactive.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

You may have decided otherwise, but having a disability that leaves you with limited mobility or in a wheelchair is not an acceptable excuse for being completely inactive. In fact, research has shown that working even just your upper body can increase your mobility as you gain enhanced upper-body strength, endurance, and flexibility. Any type of activity can also give you most of exercise's health benefits, regardless of whether you are in a wheelchair or just having trouble getting around easily on your feet.

You can choose to get moving more simply by doing non-weight-bearing exercises, such as any swimming-pool-based activity and other activities done off your feet. Many exercises can be done seated, and there are countless articles, books, videos, and DVDs on the subject. Many stretches and resistance activities can also be modified slightly to work from a sitting or lying position, if that makes them easier for you to do. A wide selection of videotapes and DVDs demonstrating various physical activities, including exercise routines to be done in a chair or wheelchair, are available from a variety of sources. You can find materials for aerobic workouts, strength training, flexibility moves, yoga, and more. In addition to finding them at local sporting-goods stores and national chains, some online sources to peruse for workout videos are the following: Stronger Seniors (www.strongerseniors.com), Active Videos (www.activevideos.com), Just About Fitness (www.justaboutfitness.com), and Collage Video (www.collagevideo.com). In addition, three workouts highly recommended by About.com include: (1) Jodi Stolove--Chair Dancing through the Decades (2004) and Chair Dancing around the World (2004); (2) Tai-Chi Exercises for Seniors (1998); and (3) Doctor's Senior Exercise (1998). Try out various ones to see which ones work best for you.

Even if you're not in a wheelchair, carrying around extra body fat can pose a formidable challenge to being physically active. Excess weight alone can often keep you from wanting or being able to participate in sports or other physical pursuits, thus potentially creating a downward spiral for weight management and self-care. For example, choosing not to participate in physical activities due to your excessive body size or difficulty in moving around lowers your daily calorie expenditure, which causes you to potentially gain more weight. At the same time, being sedentary makes you lose muscle mass, making you weaker and robbing you of any incentive to become more active. Having extra body weight is harder on the joints in your lower extremities (i.e., your hips, knees, and ankles). Try out different activities until you find the ones that are the most comfortable for you to do, and stick with those. In addition, make certain to include adequate warm-up and cool-down periods, along with flexibility and strength exercises.

Many organizations are dedicated to assisting people with physical disabilities, helping them to live healthier lives that include physical activity. One such organization is the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD). The NCPAD encourages persons with disabilities to participate in regular physical activity as a means of promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing development of secondary health problems. Their slogan is, "Exercise is for everybody and every person can gain some health benefit from being more physically active." They can give you information about leisure activities, health and exercise programs, other resources listed by state (such as local fitness programs in your area), equipment adaptations, and applied products listed by company. On their website (www.ncpad.org), you can also find out about wheelchair sports, including boccie, bowling, golf, hunting, skiing, tai chi, and tennis.

If you're more the adventurous type, check out the National Sports Center for the Disabled (www.nscd.org), which is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world. Each year with their assistance, thousands of children and adults with disabilities take to the ski slopes, mountain trails, and golf courses despite their physical limitations. Regardless of which activities you decide are or aren't for you, the bottom line is that physical activity is for everyone.

For more information on all of the mental benefits of physical activity, please consult my new book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight. Check my Web site (www.shericolberg.com) for more details or to order a copy today.

Read Sheri's bio here.

Read more of Sheri Colberg-Och's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.


Last Modified Date: June 11, 2014

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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