Exercise as a prescription for good health includes everyone regardless of health condition or functional capacity. For people living with a disability, it is even markedly so. Regular physical activity is beneficial on so many levels – physical, mental, and social. On the physical level, it can help improve your health and well-being as well as promote functional independence. Mentally, exercise may help improve your mood and ward off the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Regarding its social aspect, physical activity can help boost your confidence and increase interaction with others.
In Australia, 4.4 million, or 1 out of 5 people have some form of disability. While everyone faces hurdles when it comes to pursuing regular exercise, people with a disability tend to confront these barriers more frequently with the impact that is felt more deeply.
A report on sports and exercise participation shared these interesting findings: people with a disability are less likely to participate in a sport or activity; and 1 out of 5 people with a disability are inactive and do not engage in a sport, exercise, or physical recreation at all. The same report stated that among people with a disability, the reason most cited for inactivity is poor health or injury.
What are the most common health problems caused by lack of exercise in people living with a disability
For people living with a disability leading a sedentary lifestyle, there is a higher risk of developing chronic diseases and conditions such as:
- heart problems including heart attack
A sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to obesity and higher risks for secondary conditions or preventable medical, emotional, or social problems. These include diseases such as pneumonia, urinary tract infection, joint pain, and metabolic abnormalities as well as feelings of fatigue or depression, among many others.
What are the kinds and types of exercises for people with a disability?
The basic guidelines for physical activity remain the same for everyone regardless of functional capacity or health conditions. That means participating in aerobic, strengthening, and flexibility exercises.
- Aerobic exercises: Compared to adults without disabilities, persons with disabilities may be three times more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and other chronic conditions.
For able-bodied individuals, the recommendation by experts is 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week or 90 minutes or 1 ½ hours of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. For people living with a disability, this may not be possible. However, these are some ways to do aerobic exercise:
- Aquatic therapy – includes swimming, water aerobics, hydrotherapy, and aqua jogging
- Walking – brisk walking raises the heart rate and may help build
- Hand bicycling
- Rowing machine training
- Adaptive team sports – includes basketball, volleyball, and tennis
- Wheelchair sprints
While it’s good to aim for the recommended minimum guidelines for exercise duration, some form of activity is better than none.
- Strengthening exercises: Strength training may help people living with a disability build muscle mass and enhance endurance that can help in falls prevention and improve balance and coordination. Experts recommend moderate- to vigorous-intensity muscle strengthening training that works all the major muscle groups of the body at least 2-3 times a week.
Recommended muscle-strengthening exercises using machines, free weights, or resistance bands include the ff.:
- Shoulders – presses
- Chest – bench presses
- Back – pulldowns, rows
- Arms – bicep curls, triceps extensions
- Legs – leg extensions, leg curls
- Flexibility exercises: being flexible is as important as aerobic fitness and muscle strength. Being limber can help in improving the range of motion of your joints and muscles. Some ways of incorporating stretching into your exercise routine include stretching while lying down or seated in a wheelchair, or as an alternative, you can get into adaptive yoga or tai-chi. Experts recommend that you stretch after warm-up when your muscles are already warm. Stretching after your training may also help prevent muscle injury or soreness.
Before you embark on an exercise program, it is best to consult with your Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist especially if you have been sedentary or have not exercised for a while. These health experts can guide you on proper form and technique as well as outline which programs can help you exercise safely and achieve optimal results.
When you’re ready to exercise, remember to always allow sufficient time for warming up and cooling down. Start slowly and turn up the intensity little by little as you get stronger and fitter. An injury can derail your progress so it’s better to be on the safe side.
Exploring the barriers to physical activity
The barriers to exercise among people living with a disability may be categorised into two: external and internal barriers.
External barriers include the physical and social environments. Internal barriers cover such factors as attitudes and preferences among many other personal variables such as behavioural, physiological, and psychological factors.
What are the external barriers to exercise?
Under the external category, environmental barriers exert a great influence on your level of physical activity. The most obvious one is the lack of accessibility to recreational facilities, walking or running paths, or cycling trails. There’s also the prevalence of traffic, the rate of crime, the level of pollution, hot or inclement weather, and access to public transportation that can dissuade you from exercising.
It’s not just the physical environment that counts in determining participation in exercise; the social environment matters a lot, too. This includes having the support of family and friends and belonging to a community.
What are the internal barriers to physical activity?
Personal factors play a great role in providing internal barriers to exercise among people living with a disability.
Some of the most commonly cited reasons for inactivity include the following:
- insufficient time
- lack of motivation or willpower
- inconvenience of physical activity
- exercise is not enjoyable or boring
- fear of injury
- expenses or costs involved in participation in physical activity or recreation
- lack of suitable programs
Strategies to overcome barriers to physical activity
To be able to help make exercise a part of daily life for people with a disability, it is important to understand these hurdles so that you can come up with effective strategies and solutions to overcome these obstacles. Here are some examples:
- Lack of time – add physical activities to your routine; evaluate your daily schedule so you can pinpoint 30-minute periods when you can squeeze in some exercise; or pick activities that take the minimum amount of time to accomplish such as walking, climbing the stairs, or jogging. If you like reading, you can do so while riding a stationary bike.
- Lack of energy – identify the times of the day and the days of the week when you feel most energetic and schedule your physical activity accordingly. Give exercise a try and you may just find that exercising can be energising instead of draining.
- Lack of support – buddy up with family members or friends, make new acquaintances with active people who can inspire and motivate you.
- Boredom or lack of training motivation – join a group exercise class, train with a friend, put physical activity into your calendar, or find an activity that you really find enjoyable.
- Fear of being injured – allot enough time to sufficiently warm up and cool down, observe correct form when exercising; select exercises that are appropriate to your age, health condition, and fitness level; and pick up an activity that’s low on risks for injury.
- Lack of access to adaptive equipment and facilities – research ways of exercising without spending a lot; take up walking, climbing stairs, or running; and find out nearby facilities that are inclusive and can accommodate your unique training requirements such as ramps and ample space for wheeled mobility equipment or wheelchairs.
- Lack of skill – find an activity that you will enjoy learning and doing like ballroom dancing or take up an activity that doesn’t require a lot of skills such as walking, climbing the stairs, or running on park trails.
- Adverse weather conditions – have a mix of indoor and outdoor activities so you can exercise no matter what the weather condition may be.
- Work and family obligations – find time to exercise during the workday such as walking or climbing stairs coming to and going from the office; involve the kids in playing games and doing physical activity.
Expert assistance and support in learning how to adapt exercises for a disability
At Healthstin, our Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists are highly experienced and well-trained in supporting people living with disabilities or chronic conditions. Our team knows that a program customised to your needs is the best way to achieve optimal results. We also understand that movement is for everyone and that is why our facilities are not just well-equipped but are also inclusive and adaptive to accommodate people with different training requirements.
Our Allied Health Clinic in Sans Souci, just like all our clinic locations, is furnished with a Hydrotherapy pool and gym space to provide you with a holistic approach to training. The pool provides an excellent venue for water-based training such as swimming and aquatic exercises that let you benefit from the body’s buoyancy in the water – less strain on your joints and body as well as enhanced flexibility, balance, and range of motion. For land-based training, our gym in Sans Souci is fully equipped to allow you to exercise safely while building up your muscle strength. To book an appointment or inquire about how we can help you in your health and well-being journey, call 1300 090 931 now.
The health benefits of physical activity are too important to ignore. The exercise prescription applies to everybody regardless of functional capacity because the body is designed for movement. For people living with a disability, it is especially crucial to incorporate physical activity into daily living since the advantages are not just physical but also emotional and social. Getting fitter and stronger can be empowering, enabling you to gain functional independence for doing everyday tasks. More than that, it can boost self-esteem and confidence as well as ward off the symptoms of depression and anxiety.