How to Exercise when you have a Chronic Condition or Disability

Many people struggle to maintain a regular workout regimen. Add in a disability, chronic condition or injury, and it can be even more challenging to incorporate exercise into a weekly routine. Yet it’s important to do so.

Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to develop serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer than those without disabilities, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the impact of these health conditions can be lessened or possibly even avoided with regular aerobic exercise, nearly half of adults ages 18 to 64 with a disability are not engaging in any, the CDC says.

“Regular exercise can provide many benefits for people with disabilities, including improved overall health, increased strength and endurance, better mobility, and improved mental health,” said Lalitha McSorley, owner and lead physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Clinic in Calgary, Alberta.

Regular exercise can also help manage the symptoms associated with some disabilities. For example, exercise can reduce the pain and stiffness that often accompanies arthritis, and it can improve cognitive function in people with cognitive issues, she said. Additionally, a consistent workout routine can boost self-esteem and provide valuable socialization and community engagement.

In 2020, the World Health Organization released the first global public health guidelines regarding physical activity for those with disabilities and chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and cancer. These guidelines are the same as the US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for all adults: Every week you should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or an equal combination of both. In addition, you should perform muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week.

Exercises to consider if you have limited mobility
Which types of exercise are appropriate and helpful will depend upon your specific health situation. In general, some good options are swimming, walking, water aerobics, cycling and seated workouts, said Bishnu Pada Das, a certified personal trainer based in Kolkata, India. Examples of seated workouts include using a hand cycle and performing chair exercises with or without weights.

Chair exercises can be as simple as power punches in which you punch your arms in front of you in an alternating fashion, Das said, or alternating kicks, which involve holding your chair for support, then alternating leg kicks. Even torso rotations are beneficial, twisting from side to side and using your arms to help with the rotations.

Source: Edition CNN