How to Exercise with a Disability: Step By Step Guide

Following from my previous blog (Exercising with Limited Mobility) I received a lot of questions about exercising with long term disabilities, so for those of you who are keen to know more, here is my guide.

Before you get started preparation is key

1. Ask your doctor for exercise restrictions/recommendations. Some exercise can exacerbate certain conditions, while others can be helpful. For example, water exercise is often recommended for sufferers of fibromyalgia.

2. Seek the aid of a physical therapist before starting to exercise on your own. Good form is important for people who already have a disability. A physical therapist, whether prescribed by your Doctor or not, can tailor an exercise regime to your condition.

3. Hire a helper. Depending upon your disability this could be a PT, a physical therapist or a nurse. They can take the doctor and physical therapist recommended exercises and make sure that they are being done properly and safely.

4. Look for disability exercise support groups or start one yourself. They may be available through local hospitals, clinics, gyms or community centres. If you do find you have other disabled people who want to start an exercise group, contact local pools, gyms or community centres to see if they would be interested in holding classes. This route will not only help your fitness, but also help other people.

5. Consider getting a gym membership. Look for a gym that has a pool, personal trainers or aides and disability access. This may be the most cost effective way to get a workout.

6. Set short term and long term goals. A short term goal may be to swim for 15 minutes at a time 3 days per week. A long term, lifestyle goal may be to get 20 minutes of some exercise every day.

What are your exercise options?

1. Try a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training. Aerobic exercise works your heart and lungs and could be as simple as walking, pushing your wheelchair or swimming. Strength training includes the use of small weights or resistance bands to improve your muscle strength and bone density.

2. Consider water exercise. People with spinal problems, nerve problems or an inability to use limbs will find the added buoyancy of the water to be helpful.

3. Look for a disabled sports league or team. Common sports leagues include basketball, tennis, athletics, football and swimming. This form of exercise allows you to help your cardio fitness and to be part of your team.

4. Include non-structured exercise. Health and fitness are only achieved when you are leading an active life, so make this part of your long-term goals. If you commute by walking or wheelchair use or you clean your own home, these are exercise as well, so give yourself credit for increasing the activity in your life.

5. Exercise in moderation. People who have disabilities do not want to suffer from muscle tension from overwork. Start with 10 minutes per day and work up to 30 minutes or more.

The NHS reports that approximately 50 percent of wheelchair users die from cardiovascular problems. The chances of heart and lung problems can be controlled or prevented with regular exercise in moderation. I also think that it’s important for disabled people to discover an exercise regime that helps them be active, get out in the community and release endorphins.

Katie Tomkins

Katie Tomkins
Top Local Trainer Author
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