It is possible to be in a wheelchair for various reasons: due to a sudden event, for example, spinal cord injury, stroke or amputation of a limb, or as a result of the progression of a serious disease – multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or osteoarthritis. However, contrary to popular misconception, people with disabilities are not only allowed, but also highly recommended to engage in various physical exercises – from fitness to bodybuilding.
Why should people with disabilities go in for sports
Limited mobility often causes complications in the form of obesity, shortness of breath, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis. With age, these diseases are further aggravated.
Performing physical exercises can increase endurance, improve posture and coordination, strengthen muscles and improve joint mobility. Sport helps to get rid of disorders in the digestive system, improve the functioning of the heart and lungs, strengthen the immune system and even prevent brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It has been proven that during sports, the amount of the hormone endorphin increases in the human body. This substance is responsible for a good mood, helps to resist stress, relieves pain and increases self-esteem, which in most cases is extremely necessary for people who, for some reason, have lost the ability to actively move.
How to choose the right exercises
Many of the exercises that healthy people can easily perform are not suitable for people with disabilities. But this is not a reason to refuse to engage in the sport you like. Specially for such cases, there are adapted versions of exercises.
For people using a wheelchair with a manual drive, it is important to include exercises for large trunk muscles in the training program, as well as stretching the muscles of the shoulders and chest. Most wheelchair users overextend their upper body, especially triceps and shoulders, while driving them. Therefore, in order to avoid improper load distribution, injury to muscles and ligaments, wheelchair users should train in such a way as to strengthen the back muscles and at the same time relax the chest muscles.
All exercises for people with disabilities can be divided into 3 groups.
- Cardio training. This is a set of exercises that increase endurance, tone the heart muscle, improve blood circulation. Many people believe that cardio training is only running, walking, cycling or dancing, which for obvious reasons are not suitable for people with disabilities. But many people with limited mobility master tennis and aquatics. The latter are also useful because water supports the body and thereby relieves stress from joints and muscles.
- Strength training. This is a set of exercises using special equipment to build muscle mass, strengthen bone tissue and improve balancing. For people in wheelchairs, most strength exercises designed to train the upper body are suitable.
- Flexibility exercises. These exercises are important because they help to expand the range of movements, prevent injuries and stiffness of the joints, relieve pain. These can be classic stretching exercises or yoga classes. By the way, exercises from this group are not just suitable, but also very important for people with limited motor activity, because they help prevent or slow down muscle atrophy, improve posture, and reduce back pain.
Since people with disabilities lead a less active lifestyle, regular sports are very important for them. Experts advise wheelchair users to allocate 150 minutes during the week for cardio training of moderate difficulty or 75 minutes for more intensive exercises to strengthen the cardiovascular system. In addition, at least 2 times a week, you should devote time to strength training.
Where to start
The first thing to do before going in for sports is to consult with your doctor or physiotherapist. The specialist will help you choose the most suitable type of training, its intensity, and also advise which exercises should be avoided, taking into account the characteristics of the body.
Any sports activities should be started from the easiest level and do the exercises that a person likes. This will allow you to achieve your first goals faster, gain confidence in your abilities and keep motivated. Over time, it will be possible to move on to more complex workouts. But we must be prepared in advance for the fact that there are ups and downs in any sport, and even if something does not work out, this is not a reason to lose heart and stop practicing. To avoid disappointment, you should initially set realistic goals for yourself. To achieve positive results, sports should become part of the daily life of a person with disabilities.
During any workout, it is very important to observe safety precautions. It is not necessary to continue the lesson if it brings pain, discomfort in the chest, causes dizziness, nausea, palpitations, shortness of breath or very strong sweating. It is important to listen carefully to all the signals of your body. If a 15-minute workout causes discomfort, then it should be reduced to 10 or even 5 minutes. To avoid injury, you should choose exercises with minimal risk to muscles and joints, and at least initially train under the supervision of an experienced instructor or physiotherapist.