The Benefits of Exercise and Physical Activities for People with Disabilities
It might seem antithetical to prescribe more movement to a person with a disability but that’s exactly what the science proposes. Along with nutrition, exercise and physical activity are probably the closest we can come to having a panacea of sorts for life’s various ills and health conditions.
While exercise confers benefits to all, its merits are all the more valuable for people with functional limitations or chronic health conditions that affect their ability to do tasks for everyday living. This is a timely and relevant topic especially since about 18 per cent of the population or 1 out of 6 Australians have a disability. This is sizeable number that continues to grow as the population ages. Of this statistic, around 86 per cent report having difficulty doing core activities that include self-care, communication, and mobility.
People living with a disability are further divided into those with physical conditions, people with mental and behavioural conditions, and those with intellectual and developmental disorders. It is interesting to note that the benefits provided by exercise and physical activity can transcend the range of functional limitations and support people living with either physical, mental, intellectual, or behavioural challenges.
The benefits of exercise if you have a disability
Your level of functional capacity is not a barrier to exercise. Besides, the benefits are also too good to ignore or pass up. For older adults with a disability, the benefits include the following:
• improvement in mood with less anxiety and depression
• increase in strength
• boost in mobility
• increased independence and ability to do day-to-day tasks
• decrease in fatigue levels
• improvement in social interactions
• boost in self-confidence
• decrease in cholesterol levels and blood pressure
• improvement in bowel and bladder function
• better focus and concentration
• improvement in sleep quality
• weight loss and better weight management
What are the most ideal exercises for older adults with disabilities
The prescription of regular exercise applies to everyone and that includes older adults with disabilities. However, older adults often share some common concerns when it comes to incorporating exercise into their lives and need reassurance as to whether the activity will make their pain or chronic condition worse and what types of exercise are safe for them.
The good news is that no, exercise will not make your pain or condition worse when it is done properly. And yes, the universal recommendation of cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises can be very beneficial.
• Aerobic/cardiovascular exercises – cycling, jogging, brisk walking, dancing, aqua aerobics, and water jogging can elevate your heart rate and help build up your stamina. It’s worth noting that doing your cardio training in water can be especially beneficial for people with mobility challenges as the body is buoyant in water. This makes the exercises less strenuous on the joints and lets the muscles work through a greater range of motion than would be possible during land-based training.
• Strength/resistance training – done with free weights, machines, elastic bands, or bodyweight, these exercises help build up the mass and strength of your muscles and bones. Getting stronger has real-life applications – think of being able to lift those hefty bags of groceries or carrying your kid up a flight of stairs. Resistance exercises are also essential for improving your balance and preventing falls.
• Flexibility exercises – stretching, yoga, or taichi can aid in enhancing your range of motion, relieve pain, reduce stiffness, and prevent injuries. Stretching after a workout can also prevent or reduce muscle soreness.
You can adapt the exercises to suit your condition. For example, if you have limited mobility in your lower body, you can focus on developing upper-body strength and do stretches for the legs to delay further muscle atrophy. Other options include wheelchair resistance and flexibility workouts and adaptive yoga.
It’s always smart to consult a health expert such as an Exercise Physiologist first before starting an exercise regimen. These health experts would be able to give you an assessment of your health condition and tailor an exercise intervention that is most suited to your goals and condition. They can also guide you to choose the most appropriate exercises that are safe and effective to deliver optimal results.
Start slowly and build up your intensity and duration as you get fitter. There’s no sense in speeding up the process and then stalling your progress with an injury or ending up too sore and swearing off exercise for good.
How can an Exercise Physiologist help
While exercise is a valuable tool for improving our physical and mental health and well-being, it can be challenging for people with chronic conditions or unique abilities. Can consulting an Exercise Physiologist help? And what does an exercise physiologist do to people with disabilities?
Exercise Physiologists or EPs hold the highest qualification to design and deliver exercise programs. With regards to rendering NDIS exercise physiology services, EPs know how to provide an accurate assessment of your state of fitness, capacity for movement, and health status, then recommend the exercise intervention personalised to your particular health condition.
The aim is to get you moving in the right direction and help you achieve your goals whether it’s to decrease pain, increase mobility, prevent falls, build strength, enhance flexibility, increase independence, minimise depression, achieve greater balance and coordination, or improve your general health.
Remember that building your functional capacity can go a long way in promoting your capability for self-care, accomplishing your day-to-day tasks, and improving your quality of life without increasing the risks of complications of present conditions.
To sum up, the key to living your best life regardless of your functional capacity is to Choose the activities you like doing and keep doing them. Aside from the physical barriers to exercise, it would be good to face the mental and emotional hurdles.
Don't fret or worry about the activities you can do. Rechannel your energies and focus on the ones that you can instead. Take pride in making an effort to be more physically active and use that to reinforce your motivation to exercise regularly.
So, if you’re ready to live your best life, then, do the math. Adding more movement to your day equals a better quality of life.
About the Author:
Dr. Rachelle Sultana, PhD, AEP, M Clin Ex Phys, B Ex Sp Sci
Rachelle Sultana is a highly qualified expert in exercise physiology and clinical exercise. With a PhD and multiple degrees, she combines academic knowledge with practical experience to promote a healthier lifestyle. Follow her on LinkedIn | Instagram.