It’s highly common for physical disabilities to force someone into a less active lifestyle. Though exercising despite the challenges can be very rewarding and certainly worth the effort.
There is a direct link between picking up good habits and maintaining a positive mental state. Working out can also increase your metabolism or make it physically and emotionally easier to handle stress.
It may feel impossible to exercise, or that the effort isn’t worth the payoff. But while there is definitely a learning curve to the process, the overall benefit to your emotional and physical wellbeing can never be underestimated.
Get started by asking the right questions
The first and arguably most important step is figuring out your limits. These are questions that need to be asked:
> How long can you exercise per day, and how often do you engage in it per week?
> What type of specific workouts should you do to maximise effectiveness?
> Are there any physical activities that you should avoid?
> Will medication be required, and if so, when should it be administered?
> Is there a need for specialised equipment to increase workout ease and efficiency?
Naturally, not all of these questions can be sufficiently answered by yourself. Consulting a physical therapist will do wonders for this, as they can help plan an effective yet ultimately safe exercise routine, specifically catered to your needs.
Planning your workout routine
Some exercises will be more difficult than others to achieve, depending on one’s physical limits. Regardless, it is important to consider the following elements to get the most out of your workout routine:
> Cardiovascular exercises. Walking, running, swimming and aquajogging are among the proven methods for building endurance and promoting blood flow. Exercises involving water are especially recommended, as the buoyancy acts as natural support against potential injury and overexertion. Depending on your specific workout or disability, using additional tools such as a recumbent bike or flotation aids can help ease you into the exercise process.
> Flexibility exercises. It improves your range of motion, reinforces your body against injury and helps loosen your joints and muscles. This, in turn, reduces pain and stiffness that are common after extended periods of lying down or sitting. Yoga, stretching and tai chi are easy enough to learn from online video guides or enlisting a personal instructor.
> Strength training. Unlike the other two workout types that focus on flexing or improving your weak joints and muscles, tailor your strength training quite literally to your physical strengths. If your limited mobility involves your lower body, focus on upper body training instead such as seated bicep curls. Conversely, work your legs and core if your upper body is injured or limited. Getting a resistance band to attach to a sturdy chair or doorknob is an easy way to improve your strength without much investment.
Ensuring your wellbeing during workouts
> Pre-workout routines are crucial. Get your body primed for high-physical activity by engaging in a few minutes of light exercise. This may include walking, shoulder rolling and light stretching. Do not do deep stretches during this, as your muscles aren’t warmed up at all and thus not ready to handle heavier exertions.
> Post-workout routines are equally crucial. The activities involved in this are similar to your pre-workout. Be sure to do this for a couple minutes after completing your entire exercise routine, as it helps regulate your blood flow and return your heart rate to normal. Ignoring this “cooling down” period risks causing blood to pool at the lower extremities of your body, which can cause dizziness or risk you passing out.
> Be conscious of your breathing. Actively breathing deeply improves your blood flow while essentially training your heart and lungs. You can lift heavier weights and endure longer cardiovascular workouts as your muscles are more efficiently oxygenated.
> Hydrate yourself. Ideally, you’d want to drink a small cup of water once every 10 to 20 minutes throughout your exercise routine. Your muscles will also operate much better when you stay hydrated.
> Stop immediately if you experience irregular pain and discomfort. Never ignore what your body is telling you. Exercise can be physically demanding, but the result should never involve feelings of nausea, lightheadedness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or excessively shaky and sweaty hands. If such symptoms are a regular occurrence, engage in more frequent, low-intensity exercise instead of short bursts of high-intensity workouts.
Leveling up your workout experience
> Immerse yourself in your exercise routine. Take note of your breathing, the contraction of your muscles, the movement of your body against resistance. Paying attention to these sensations means you force out any and all mental distractions. You’re also keeping tabs on your body doing this, lowering risk of injury and potentially allowing you to get more out of your workout.
> Grab a friend. Experiences are best when shared. Having an exercise partner, especially an understanding and experienced one, can help keep tabs on your posture and overall wellbeing while also acting as an emotional pillar. It also helps alleviate potential boredom by adding a crucial social element to the routine.
> Music is a fantastic exercise partner. Studies prove that lyrics, rhythm and melodies can have a very real psychological and physiological impact, such as improving your metabolic efficiency. People have shown to be capable of greater physical activity when listening to music.
> Don’t ignore good nutrition. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to food you like. In fact, it can do wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing. That said, good food and good exercise complement one another. You do not want to undo your progress achieved through your workouts, so remember that almost everything is best when done in moderation.
Starting an exercise routine and maintaining it long enough to yield positive results can be difficult. Just remember that there are multiple avenues you can pursue to ease your transition into a fitter, happier lifestyle.
HelpGuide (2022) How to Exercise with Limited Mobility [Accessed: 15 August 2022] Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/chair-exercises-and-limited-mobility-fitness.htm
Abdulla Kudrath (2019) Why Exercise is Important, Benefits of Exercise, Physical Activity [Accessed: 17 August 2022] Available at: https://angletoner.com/5-reasons-why-exercise-is-important/
Aruma (2019) Why exercise is important for people with a disability [Accessed: 17 August 2022] Available at: https://www.aruma.com.au/about-us/blog/importance-of-fitness-and-exercise-for-people-with-disabilities/
Cogentica (2022) How People With Disabilities Can Stay Fit [Accessed: 17 August 2022] Available at: https://www.cogentica.com/how-people-with-disabilities-can-stay-fit/