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The Health and Wellbeing Benefits of Exercise for Disabled People

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Are you a disabled person looking to exercise, keep fit, and live healthier? Are you unsure what exercise disabled people can do? Do you want to know some of the plus-points that come with exercising? Read on to discover the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and why it’s important for you, your body and your mind.

What are the benefits of exercise for disabled people?

Exercise is great for all of us, whether we are disabled or not.  It gets our hearts pumping hard, improves our mood, and even helps us sleep.  Exercise is generally defined as any activity outside of the normal daily routine, with the purpose of improving overall health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally, for those of us who engage in it.. Regular exercise is known to have significant health benefits including reducing the risks of:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Colon cancer
  • Diabetes

Although the physical benefits of exercise are readily known the impact on mental health is often overlooked. The endorphins released during exercise have been proven to reduce symptoms related to anxiety and depression. Therefore it can be said that exercise for all, leads to general feelings of well-being.

What exercises can a disabled person do?

The exercise which a disabled person can successfully undertake generally depends on the level of disability that individual has. For example, whereas pounding the weights in the gym may be a viable option for some, it could also just as easily be a totally inaccessible form of work-out for others. 

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There is however, one place where exercise is broadly accessible for most individuals and that’s in the swimming pool. Whether it be a warm hydrotherapy pool, or just your local swimming baths, being in the water can help support a disabled person whilst they exercise. If you’re able to swim independently then this is a fantastic way to build core strength and use a wide range of muscles in the process; however, even with the help of floatation devices, there’s still much to be gained from taking a dip and moving your body in water. 

Ultimately though, however you decide to get active, just remember to go at your own pace and not to overdo yourself. Better to do too little and not over-exert yourself than to do too much and end up causing injuries.  

Why is exercise so important for disabled people?

Research suggests that exercise for disabled people is even more important than for those without a disability.  Why? Well, did you know that conditions such as diabetes and obesity have been proven to be up to 66% more likely in disabled people than their non-disabled peers? It’s particularly important for those of us who are disabled to get moving on a regular basis if we want to live long, healthy and enjoyable lives.

And, let’s be honest, it’s a bit more difficult to get your body moving and heart racing if you are sitting down all day and living a relatively sedentary lifestyle!  If that sounds like you, then your risk of related coronary, digestive and respiratory diseases is likely to be significantly greater than a similar person of the same age without an impairment.

But, it’s not all about the important physical aspect of exercise for disabled people; it’s important to look after our own mental health, too.  With a lack of accessible transport, attractions and pubs and clubs, it’s no secret that disabled people can find it difficult to meet and connect with others, and might even be anxious at the thought.  Exercise is a great natural medicine for this, and can be used to:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce feelings of stress
  • Encourage clearer thinking
  • Bring about a greater sense of calm
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Reduce risks of depression
  • Improve sleep

Although these benefits are not exclusive to disabled people, it is important to recognise and note that these mental health issues are significantly more prevalent within the disabled community as a whole.

Alongside these mental health risks, is the issue of isolation.  Disabled people are far more likely to withdraw socially and risk a lack of engagement in any meaningful activity.  Sport or exercise presents an opportunity to engage in group activities and the surrounding environment which can, in turn, reduce the risk of isolation.  So, if you’re feeling a little low and alone, go along to your local gym, swimming pool or adapted sports team; you will be met with warmth and encouragement, and it will be an opportunity to banish those negative feelings with movement and fun!

Which barriers to exercise to disabled people face?

Sadly, getting out there and just ‘having a go’ isn’t quite so simple for many disabled people when it comes to exercise, and numerous barriers can get in our way which prevent us from exercising properly.  Some of these include:

  • Environmental Obstacles – All venues should be providing accessible facilities, where reasonable adjustments are appropriate and achievable, however this is not always the case and can limit access for disabled people.  Engaging with management at venues to discuss how the facilities can best be adapted can often improve access.
  • Perception of Disabled Exercise – Social perception can often inhibit disabled people’s willingness to engage in exercise. Maybe it’s a fear of not wanting to be seen as different, or standing out, or worry that someone might say something unkind and unnecessary.  In moments of self-doubt and self-consciousness, try to remember that the world is a diverse place and that people are far more likely to respect your desires to keep fit, rather than devote energy to having any derogatory thoughts toward you. 
  • Lack of Self-Belief – Negative emotions about ourselves can reduce engagement, but it’s important to also think about what a positive self-image can lead to: new opportunities, accomplishments and friendships.

Finding the balance with exercise

It’s important for all people, including those who are disabled, to try and strike up an exercise regime suited to their individual needs and requirements.  Exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym or running a marathon; chair based exercises focusing on muscle strength and tone may have just as much impact on your general health and well being.

How much exercise should a disabled person do?

The bottom-line is, do as much or as little disabled-friendly exercise as you feel comfortable with. Don’t over-do it if you feel like you could either burn yourself out, or cause yet more mobility complications for yourself. 

The UK’s National Health Service recommends disabled people participate in around 150 minutes worth of aerobic exercises per week. This equates to around twenty minutes per day. Another term for aerobic exercise is “cardio” and this generally includes any exercise which raises both the breathing rate and the heart rate of the participant, for a sustained period of time. 

 Here’s to a happy, healthy future – where we all feel able and encouraged to get active, make friends and see the physical and mental benefits exercise can bring.