Baby Steps Are Okay

Start small. Exercise isn’t just about hitting the gym. It’s about putting more movement into your day. So use the stairs instead of the elevator. Or, if there are five pieces of mail delivered, walk to the mailbox five times, each time retrieving one item.

Rauworth recommends using a pedometer to get a baseline measurement of the amount of steps you typically take in a day (there are armband pedometers for people using wheelchairs). Write down your total number of steps each day. Then, anything you add to the number from the day before is an improvement.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“Any increase is beneficial,” Rauworth says.

Then, slowly add a structured activity into the mix. If a 30-minute walk isn’t realistic right off the bat, start with a five-minute stroll to build up your stamina.

“Your body doesn’t know any difference between three 10-minute bouts of exercise, if the intensity is the same, or doing 30 minutes of continuous exercise. So it’s okay to break up your exercise throughout the day,” Rauworth says.

Beat The Odds

One reason obesity is so prevalent among those with disabilities is that there are numerous barriers — programmatic, attitudinal and physical — for this population in particular.

In fact, when researchers put together the first-ever government physical activity guidelines for persons with disabilities in 2008, they first had to prove to other experts that exercise was safe and beneficial for people with disabilities.

But the truth is that everyone, regardless of ability level, has a body that benefits from movement. And today, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults with disabilities, who are able to, should get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of the two. Plus, if able, adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.

Here are some tips to overcome the many barriers that may stand in your way:

• Access: People with disabilities often are dependent on family members or support staff in order to make exercise a part of their lives. If a person’s family is active, they are more likely to be as well. So, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities in your own backyard like going for a walk or turning household chores into more physically demanding activities (try putting away the laundry one piece at a time).

• Guidance: Educated fitness staff are key to making structured activities work for someone with a developmental disability.

“There are often different types of cuing that the fitness instructor needs to be made aware of to give a person time to adapt to whatever the activity is that they’re asking them to do. Oftentimes we encourage instructors to give instructions more slowly and more direct and not as complex sequences. Allow people time to acquire a skill before you move onto the next skill,” Rauworth says.

Look for a trainer who is certified as an inclusive fitness trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. That certification gives a person knowledge about the barriers that people with disabilities face, person first terminology and some of the other special needs that individuals may have.

• Acceptance: Look for a gym with equipment to meet your physical needs and a staff that’s interested in working with you. Rauworth gives the example of a man who is blind who wanted his guide dog to work out on a treadmill next to him. The man’s gym worked with him to find less busy times during the day when they could accommodate his request.

“When a member comes into your facility and sees a person with a disability working out and his guide dog working out next to him, you’re changing perceptions and attitudes by being creative and thinking outside the box,” she says.

Ask a lot of questions before choosing a fitness center. Look around and request examples of accommodation they have provided other members with similar needs, Rauworth recommends.

Next Page >>