Staying Physically Fit When You’re Physically Disabled

Eligibility Team
Researcher & Writer
April 29, 2016

Being physically disabled presents a series of challenges. Many people with physical limitations may use it as an excuse to take a pass on activities that will make them as healthy as possible. But there are definite paths disabled people can take to help them lead the most productive lives possible within their given set of circumstances.

Disabled people, especially those confined to wheelchairs, need to undertake a physical fitness regimen to ward off an increased susceptibility to health problems they can face.

Aside from enjoying the benefits that regular physical exercise can provide for your body, exercise can also provide a much needed mental boost as well. Warding off depression can be just as important to a disabled person’s overall health as much as anything else. Becoming more physically fit despite your disability will stimulate a feeling of self-reliance and improve your self-confidence, ultimately boosting your level of independence.

Wheelchair users should focus on regular aerobic exercise that raises their heart rate and combine it with muscle-strengthening exercises to help them with the challenges they face in trying to maneuver or push a wheelchair. The combination of these two types of exercise will prevent muscle strains in the upper body that can come from the stress put on certain muscles, and help ward off weight gain, which is a chronic issue for people with confined mobility.

Many wheelchair users may not be used to a regular cardiovascular physical regimen, so it’s best to start out in small increments of 10 to 20 minutes and build from there. You’ll want to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, and you should aim to be slightly out of breath at the end of your workout. For wheelchair users, those types of activities might include swimming, wheelchair sprinting, using a rowing machine, and wheelchair sports such as basketball or badminton. The important thing is to choose an activity you enjoy, meaning you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

Strengthening activities are just as important. They will help you keep your muscles and bones strong, improve your posture and you overall physical well-being. If possible, seek out a trainer to design a program that best meets your needs and limitations. Certain trainers have been certified to work with disabled people and take their unique issues into consideration. You may end up doing a combination of free weight exercises and resistance machine training, as well as other types of related exercises to improve your core and upper body strength.

In addition to cardiovascular and strength training exercises, you may also want to build in some type of flexibility exercises as well. Sitting in a wheelchair for a long period of time can create a general sense of uneasiness, and improving your range of motion through stretching will help minimize these types of issues.

How much exercise is appropriate? Guidelines suggest that disabled or not, all adults between 19 and 64 years old should target 150 minutes a week of physical activity. This can be broken down into small time increments during the week, or longer workout sessions on the weekend. Studies have shown that the benefits are the same, regardless of how the activities are performed.

Another way that exercise may improve your health is if you seek out group activities. Going to a gym or joining an exercise class is a great way to meet people and a larger social circle centered around a healthful activity carries with it many additional benefits for wheelchair bound people.

Eligibility Team
Written by
Eligibility Team
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