When considering the advantages of exercise for the disabled population it is important to acknowledge that the benefits can be experienced by everyone, whether there is a perceived disability or not.
Benefits of exercise
Exercise is defined generally as any activity outside of the normal daily routine, with the purpose of improving overall health & well-being. Regular exercise is known to have significant health benefits including reducing the risks of:
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Colon cancer
There are other benefits that impact positively on daily life, which can improve your ability to carry out day to day activities including:
- Increased stamina
- Improved muscle strength
- Increased range of movement
- Improved flexibility
Although the physical benefits of exercise are readily known the impact on mental health is often overlooked. The endorphins released during exercise have been proven to reduce symptoms related to anxiety and depression. Therefore it can be said that exercise for all, leads to general feelings of well-being.
Amplified importance of exercise
Research suggests that exercise for the disabled is even more important than for those without disability. The rationale behind this is the higher rates of factors such as obesity and diabetes, which have been recorded in some research as being 66% more likely for those with a registered disability.
Those with physical disabilities are often perceived to live a more sedentary life with an inability to engage generally in strenuous exercise. If you are indeed in that situation then your risks of the related coronary, digestive and respiratory diseases is likely to be significantly greater than a similar person of the same age without an impairment.
Other than the physical impact of exercise for disabled it is important to consider other factors such as mental health and risks of social isolation for those with disabilities.
For some people with what the medical model would term mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression General Medical Practitioners will often recommend and indeed prescribe exercise plans as a way to non-pharmaceutically alleviate symptoms. This is because evidence suggests that exercise can be used to:
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce feelings of stress
- Clearer thinking
- A greater sense of calm
- Increased self-esteem
- Reduce risks of depression
- Improve sleep
Although these benefits are not exclusive to those with disabilities the important factor is the awareness that these mental health issues are significantly more prevalent within the disabled population.
Alongside these mental health risks, either as an antecedent or symptom, is isolation. People with any disability are far more likely to withdraw socially and risk a lack of engagement in any meaningful activity. Sport or exercise presents an opportunity to engage in group activities or with the social environment which can reduce the risk of isolation.
- Environment – All venues should be providing accessible facilities, however this is not always the case and can limit access but engaging with the management about how to use the facilities can often improve access.
- Perception – Social perception can often inhibit our willingness to engage in exercise, maybe it’s a fear of not wanting to be seen as different, or standing out, the world needs to embrace diversity more and this can’t be done if those of us that are unique are hiding behind closed doors.
- Self-belief/worth – Negative emotions about ourselves can reduce engagement, however a positive attitude towards our self can lead to new opportunities and friendships
Finding the balance
It’s important for all people, including those with a disability, to try and strike up an exercise regime suited to their individual needs. Exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym or running a marathon; chair based exercises focusing on muscle strength and tone may have an just as much impact on our general health and well being.
So let’s all start moving and improve our health, to support a healthy future.