Disabled? You Can Still Exercise!

A basketball sitting in the seat of a wheelchairBeing disabled or having chronic pain or illness makes exercise difficult if not impossible. But don’t lose hope. Exercise can be performed by just about everyone—including individuals with limited mobility. In fact, those who suffer from joint problems, weight issues, injury, or illness will find great benefit in performing regular physical activity.

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Exercise not only helps control weight and strengthens muscles, but it reduces the risk of various diseases, boosts energy, strengthens bones, lengthens the life span, improves mood, sex life, sleep patterns and may even help prevent or manage addictions–whether they be to drugs, food, or anything else.

With a little creativity and dedication, physical activity can become part of anyone’s lifestyle. Here’s how:

What Types Of Exercise Are Possible With A Disability?

It’s important to remember that any type of exercise will offer health benefits. Mobility issues inevitably make some types of exercise easier than others, but no matter your physical situation, you should aim to incorporate three different types of exercise into your routines:

  1. Cardiovascular exercises that raise your heart rate and increase your endurance. These can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, swimming, water aerobics, or “aquajogging”. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water especially beneficial as it supports the body and reduces the risk of muscle or joint discomfort. Even if you’re confined to a chair or wheelchair, it’s still possible to perform cardiovascular exercise.
  2. Strength training exercises involve using weights or other resistance to build muscle and bone mass, improve balance, and prevent falls. If you have limited mobility in your legs, your focus will be on upper body strength training. Similarly, if you have a shoulder injury, for example, your focus will be more on strength training your legs and abs.
  3. Flexibility exercises help enhance your range of motion, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. These may include stretching exercises and yoga. Even if you have limited mobility in your legs, for example, you may still benefit from stretches and flexibility exercises to prevent or delay further muscle atrophy.

First, Talk To Your Doctor

Your doctor or physical therapist can help you find a suitable exercise routine. Ask:

  • How much exercise can I do each day and each week?
  • What type of exercise should I do?
  • What exercises or activities should I avoid?
  • Should I take medication at a certain time around my exercise routine?

How To Exercise With Limited Mobility

1. Starting an exercise routine

  • Start slow and gradually increase your activity level. Start with an activity you enjoy, go at your own pace, and keep your goals manageable. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence and keep you motivated.
  • Make exercise part of your daily life. Plan to exercise at the same time every day and combine a variety of exercises to keep you from getting bored.
  • Stick with it. It takes about a month for a new activity to become a habit. Write down your reasons for exercising and a list of goals and post them somewhere visible to keep you motivated. Focus on short-term goals, such as improving your mood and reducing stress, rather than goals such as weight loss, which can take longer to achieve. It’s easier to stay motivated if you enjoy what you’re doing, so find ways to make exercise fun. Listen to music or watch a TV show while you workout, or exercise with friends.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

2. Staying safe when exercising

  • Stop exercising if you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or clammy hands. Listening to your body is the best way to avoid injury.
  • Avoid activity involving an injured body part. If you have an upper body injury, exercise your lower body while the injury heals, and vice versa. When exercising after an injury has healed, start back slowly, using lighter weights and less resistance
  • Warm up, stretch, and cool down. Warm up with a few minutes of light activity such as walking, arm swinging, and shoulder rolls, followed by some light stretching (avoid deep stretches when your muscles are cold). After your exercise routine, whether it’s cardiovascular, strength training, or flexibility exercise, cool down with a few more minutes of light activity and deeper stretching.
  • Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, such as supportive footwear and comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your movement.

Eddie Geroge: "Yoga Kept Me Injury Free"

Eddie GeorgeEddie George recalls that when he started doing yoga while with Tennessee seven years ago: “The perception was that it was a girl thing.”

But if you’re 6’3″, 235 pounds and embarking on a career as a professional running back, you’re in position to change perceptions – which Eddie did.

“The introduction of yoga came upon me in 1997 – my second season in the NFL with the Houston Oilers,” Eddie admits.

“Now, I won’t entirely credit its benefits as to explaining why I am one of just two NFL running backs to never miss a start due to injury and rush for more than 10,000 career yards.”

“But I will attest to yoga as being one of the vital reasons why I did in fact stay nearly injury free during my nine years in the NFL,” George says proudly.

“With that said, early on during my experiences with yoga, I mainly sought its physical advantages only – flexibility and muscle tear/injury prevention – and you can bet the farm that those aspects of yoga were all very important for me. Especially with the amount of carries I was receiving in Coach Jeff Fisher’s run-first, ball-control offense.”

“To dust off the record books real quick: I hold the NFL record for most consecutive seasons (eight) of 300-plus attempts (from 1996 to 2003). My dedication to yoga no doubt in part led to all of those rushing attempts, rushing yards and victories quickly adding up toward a Super Bowl XXXIV appearance in 2000.”

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Eddie started his yoga path with the help of Nashville yoga instructor Hilary Lindsay .

“I’d thought, he’s an amazing athlete, what could I possibly teach him?” said Hilary. “But when he couldn’t even touch his knees, I thought, ‘Yes! This guy needs me.'”

Eddie says yoga increases his strength, endurance and flexibility, makes him more elusive and prevents injury–he hasn’t missed a start in nine seasons. And by now, everyone knows yoga isn’t just for girls. Last year, Eddie was even on the cover of Real Men Do Yoga.

“If you’re comfortable with yourself, it shouldn’t matter if a class is all guys or if you’re the only guy,” says Eddie. “Yoga’s just good for you.”