Ways for Those with Disabilities to Live Fun, Active Lives and Why It’s So Important

Guest Post by Travis White

Many with disabilities fear exercise because they feel they can’t do it, or that it will make their disability worse, or that every physical activity open to them is boring or limited. In reality, those with disabilities can help battle the symptoms and complications of their disability and improve their overall mental and physical wellness by staying active. On top of that, it doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of fun, exciting ways to fill your daily exercise quota. Here are some tips.

Get involved in adaptive sports

You don’t have to get your exercise by sitting on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill for hours. There are dozens upon dozens of adaptive sports (sports modified, through rules and equipment, to accommodate those with disabilities) that you can participate in – no matter if your disability is moderate, severe, physical, mental, or visual.

Wheelchair sports are becoming increasingly popular – so much so that there’s a good chance that there is at least one recreational league available in your city (maybe more!). Basketball, handball, polo, tennis, and volleyball are all sports that have been adapted to suit those in wheelchairs.

For a more extreme sporting experience, skiing, surfing, and rock climbing have all been made highly accessible to those with disabilities through modern equipment and other technology.

Look for exercise in non-traditional places

There are tons of ways to stay active that you may not think of as exercise. Swimming is a great way to have fun and get exercise as a disabled person. Water’s natural buoyancy allows for those with certain types of disabilities to perform motions that they can’t perform on land. Being in the water really opens up a whole world of exercise for those living with a disability.

“Swimming strengthens muscles that enhance the postural stability necessary for locomotor and object-control skills. Water supports the body, enabling a person to possibly walk for the first time, thus increasing strength for ambulation on land. Adapted aquatics also enhances breath control and cardiorespiratory fitness,” says HumanKinetics.com.

Getting out in nature and going for a walk, taking a hike, and even gardening are all ways to have fun while working out. Power chairs, service dogs, and trail companions are all options if you suffer from extremely limited mobility.

Why staying active is good for your whole body (and mind)

The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated. Not only does it help prevent a myriad of health problems and obesity, but it can help manage chronic pain – something that oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with disability. The most important benefit of staying active, however, may take place in your head.

“There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, tells the American Psychological Association.

Exercise may even be a top line defense strategy against the effects of PTSD in veterans with disabilities. Not only does the physical act of exercise release brain-boosting chemicals, but exercise serves as an alternative coping mechanism to less-healthy habits like drinking, which can lead to addiction and worsen the mental problems associated with physical disabilities.

Lack of exercise may not just be a symptom of physical disability, but it can be a major exacerbating factor. By staying active, you’ll not only feel better physically but you’ll be better equipped to cope with the mental aspects of dealing with your disability.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Add Some Sparkle back into the Dreary Winter

xmas tree

The cold temperatures and extended darkness, get all of us a little down after a month. Adding a new activity, can be just the thing to bring some brightness back into your routine.

Many runners take the winter as their “rest season.” Miles are decreased and the focus becomes maintaining a certain amount of fitness or foundation through the winter. Taking a rest season has definite benefits. You’re less likely to get burned out if you have one season where training and building miles are not such a dominate feature of your daily routine. It also allows your body to recover from all the micro tears and any injuries you experienced during the race season, which haven’t fully healed.

Winter seems like the perfect time to decrease your miles too, because it’s cold and dark outside. Family and friends are visiting and you want to be able to spend time with them. There are holiday parties for different social circles you’re involved with and it would be nice to stay out a little later rather than check out early because you have a long run on Saturday morning.

The down side of dropping your miles is for some runners, it can lead to mild depression, which is compounded by the dreariness of winter, cornucopia of sweet foods, and stress of the holidays.

How do we take advantage of this rest season without gaining weight and falling into depression? Try something new. All those things that were put on hold because your training took over your weekends, now is the time. The karate or dance classes you always wanted to do, go ahead and register for them. The Zumba or Pilates class at the gym, get in there and give it a try. Never had enough time to add strength training, you do now. You can even try something more seasonal, such as, snow shoeing, skiing, or snowboarding.

Everyone around you is asking you what you want for Christmas, tell them you want to be registered for a class or a pass to the ski slopes. Learning a new physical activity not only keeps the extra pounds at bay and the depression, it also builds collateral supporting muscles, so when you are ready to start your training again, you will be in better shape.

Even if you don’t want to get into another sport, you can learn something else new pottery, sewing, ceramics, brewing beer, wood working, whatever. It doesn’t really matter, just take some time to do the things you have put on hold while you were focused on getting up early and building your miles.

Once the snow melts and the warmth of the sun returns, you will be ready to make 2015 the best race season ever.



Strength of body, mind, and heart.

What?! Strength training, you say? I don’t have time for strength training; I’m much too busy running.

Strength training is essential for runners of all distances, not only to improve speed and endurance, but to avoid injury. Twenty to thirty minutes, three days a week, is all it takes. You can do it all at home using your own body weight. No need to travel or pay for a gym membership if you don’t want to. Do it in front of your favorite TV series or while you read spelling words to your kids.

Most running injuries are caused by overuse, muscle imbalances, and your form deteriorating during long runs or races. Increasing your strength reduces injury risk from these three sources.

Overuse injuries are cause by running more miles than your body is ready for. They include things such as shin splints, pulled hip flexors, pulled hamstrings, and the feared stress fracture. By increasing your strength your body will be better prepared for an increase in miles.

Muscle imbalances cause injuries in two different ways, by pulling against the weaker muscle, straining and tearing it and by overuse. The stronger muscle then becomes injured because you are relying on it more than you should. Muscles work in concert with one another, extending and contracting.

Deteriorating form during a race happens as your entire body becomes tired because of the speed and/or distance. Your shoulders droop, your arms cross over your middle more, your head sags, you don’t pick up your feet as high. All these small changes add up and cause stress to muscles, which are called on to make up for those that are too tired to do their job any longer. In other words, you compensate for the weakness. The muscles you incorporate are susceptible to injury because you do not normally rely upon them.

Focusing on overall strength one day a week, hips and ankles one day a week, and your core and gluteus one day a week will round out your training. You can find workouts for these on my Strength Training page.

Strength of heart and mind is necessary if you want to be able to stick with running, as your long-term mode of exercise or even just to finish that marathon. You have to be ready for combat. Boredom, lack of motivation, mental and physical fatigue are going to attack you with all their succulent temptations to stay in bed, sit on the couch, it’s too cold, it’s too hot, the latest episode of (insert favorite TV series) is on, the kids need me, or whatever. There are a million reasons not to get out there and run. You have to be prepared for these and have a strategy to overcome them. You need have backup strategies as well because the first line of defense may crumble to its knees at the sight of the enemy.

I run first thing in the morning. This eliminates the taking time from the kids, who are asleep, along with most other excuses not to run. I remind myself how great I feel after my runs. I love to start the day having accomplished something. I love the quiet of the city during the wee hours of the morning and watching the sun come up over the mountains. In the winter, I enjoy the sparkling snow lining the branches of the trees and the unmarred powder covering the ground. I change my route continuously, so I don’t get bored. If you don’t have a Garmin you can use mapmyrun.com to figure out the distance of a route. I make sure and dress for the weather (we’ll talk about this in a future post). With all the TV recording, Netflix, redbox, amazon, apple TV, options missing your show should not stand in the way.

There are an infinite number of ways to entertain yourself while running. If you are going to use any devise with ear buds, I recommend keeping the volume low enough to hear cars or leaving one ear bud out. Audio books, music, and running partners are all excellent choices. There are itunes apps, which tell you stories as you run, check out Runtastic. The mapmyrun app will tell you distance, time, and split pace in real time. Pearspots.com offers coaching in real time, encouraging you, and inspiring you to keep going. Charityrun, itunes app, will donate money to a specific charity for every mile you run. These are just a few ways to fend off boredom.

The finish line of your goal race is also great motivation. Visualize crossing that finish line with your goal time being called out to you as you beep across or flashing in red numbers next to the finish arch. Feel the weight of the metal being hung around your neck. Hear the cheers and cowbells from race fans and volunteers. Relish in the hugs, kisses, and butt slapping from family and friends. Staying motivated and inspired to run is not an unconquerable foe, but it’s something you have to prepare for and fight against.

As a parent, you watch your children struggle through things as they learn and grow. It’s the most challenging aspect of parenting, at least for me. I don’t want them to be emotionally or physically hurt, but it comes with life. Being able to show them that I have struggled and overcome physical, emotional and mental challenges is just one of the ways my running benefits my children. My training demonstrates to my children the importance of setting goals and working toward them even when it gets tough.

Whatever it takes, just get out there and run!