Physical disabilities can come in many different forms and require different strategies to manage. Whether it’s a mobility issue, visual impairment, or you’re confined to a wheelchair, the need for physical activity is paramount. Staying active and being able to get out and move around your community is vital for the wellbeing of both your body and mind.
As the Centers for Disease Control puts it, “having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. Being healthy means the same thing for all of us - getting and staying well so we can lead full, active lives. Here are some tips for staying active with a physical disability.
Find exercise that best suits your needs/limitations
Staying active and getting enough exercise is important for anyone, but it’s especially important for those with a physical disability. Not only does regular exercise help boost mood and mental health, it also helps to prevent additional complications that can arise from your physical disability.
The first step is to set realistic, tangible exercise goals. Write them down. Keep an exercise journal that tracks your progress. When something is measureable, it’s easier to keep focused.
It’s important to know that “staying active” is not confined to traditional “workouts.” You don’t have to run miles or lift weights to stay active. Everyone is different, and you need to feel comfortable tailoring your activity to what your body can handle. Find an accessible local pool and go for a swim. Take up gardening or yoga. These are all great low-impact methods of staying active. Know how to target your disability. Stretching exercises are crucial for some with musculoskeletal conditions. For those confined to a wheelchair, strength exercises can improve mobility.
The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability has some great resources on maintain physical activity.
Give yourself some help to get around town
Don’t always attempt to “power through” your disability on your own. Your physical disability is only a limitation if you let it control your everyday life. Accepting various methods of aid is not weak, it’s smart. Truly living without limits comes when you accept your limitations and begin to make steps to manage/offset them. Living in denial is not sustainable.
For those with visual impairments and some other conditions, a service dog may be the best way to stay mobile.
“These specially trained dogs can help by retrieving objects that are out of their person’s reach, opening and closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate that help is needed, finding another person and leading the person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk by providing balance and counterbalance, providing deep pressure, and many other individual tasks as needed by a person with a disability,” says Assistance Dogs International.
Apart from getting a canine helper, you should look into other transportation aids including canes, walkers, and scooters. Even if you can get around in short bursts without a mobility aid, getting around town is another story. You might want to invest in one of these for extended periods of mobility, like grocery shopping or taking a stroll through your city park.
Join a class
Fitness classes have the benefit of adhering to a tight schedule and providing accountability for those involved. Through fitness classes, people with physical disabilities can make human connections that help them stay motivated. They can also benefit from the expertise of those who work with physical disabilities on a daily basis.