Physical Fitness for the Physically Disabled

by Barbara Foster

Physical fitness is the cornerstone of good health for every adult and child, including people with disabilities. Unfortunately, disabled individuals may feel that there are barriers that prevent them from being as physical as they should or would like to be. These barriers can range from physical limitations and lack of energy to not knowing what types of activities they can perform. Problems such as limited mobility may seem daunting and hard to overcome, but many activities have been adapted so that they are friendlier and more accessible. As a result, a person can live a more active lifestyle by participating in activities that are casual and mild, high-energy, or sports-related.

Participation in physical activities is important, as being active can help prevent the development of potentially serious problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, and obesity or excess weight gain. Other benefits that come from participating in more physical activities include improved muscle strength, help with arthritis pain and swelling, increased stamina, and decreased blood pressure.

When exploring ways to get active and improve their level of physical fitness, disabled people must first take their current disability and any limitations into account, as this will help them determine the type of activity to pursue. According to the most recent government-issued Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, most people with disabilities should get a moderate amount of exercise for a minimum of 150 minutes weekly if they are able to. People who have been sedentary for some time may break their workout sessions into intervals of no less than 10 minutes as they adjust to being more active. Exercising in 10-minute intervals is also helpful when doing more intense workouts or activities. In total, a person doing more vigorous activities or workouts may aim to do so for 75 minutes a week.

Fitness options are varied and can be as simple as taking a walk or using a manual wheelchair to wheel oneself around. There are also a wide range of other activities, many of which are fun, that can be used for physical fitness. Disabled individuals can use games as a way of becoming more active, both physically and mentally. Video games, for example, allow people with disabilities to perform actions that they may not be able to otherwise, courtesy of the game controllers. People who have minimal restriction to their movements, particularly their arms, may use motion-sensing controllers that allow them to perform a range of motions that can help work out their muscles. These movements can simulate the swing of a baseball bat, golf club, or tennis racket without the jarring impact, for example. For others, special controllers can make it possible for them to perform a range of actions without pressing a complex sequence of buttons. Sports games, such as basketball, have also been adapted for people with disabilities and are a good choice for people who wish to participate in group activities. Types of adapted basketball include stand-up amputee basketball and wheelchair basketball for people who have lost or lost the use of a limb. Additional group or team activities may include volleyball, rafting, or even a physical fitness class for the disabled such as water aerobics. Serious athletes may also consider training to participate in a race or a triathlon.

Solitary activities can be just as fun as those enjoyed with groups of people. Gardening is an example of a relaxing activity that works muscles, burns calories, and can even be done if in a wheelchair. Yoga is another type of activity that can be performed by people living with various disabilities and is adaptable so that getting down on a mat is not a requirement. In addition to yoga, tai chi, swimming, fishing, adaptive cycling, and dancing and wheelchair dancing are all activities that can be enjoyed alone or in a group setting.

For more information about activities and physical fitness for people with disabilities, click on any of the links listed below: