Did you know that there are major benefits to exercising when you use a wheelchair? Check out this article to find out more!
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are approximately 1 billion people living with chronic lower limb disabilities. Assuming most of these folks are wheelchair users, close to 15% of the population requires adaptive exercise opportunities in support of optimal health. The mental and physical health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are undeniable. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that in addition to increasing all causes of mortality, sedentary lifestyles can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and also increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety. Regardless of your mobility, if a healthy life is the goal, regular exercise is a must.
As a baseline for most adults, the World Health Organization recommends 30 minutes of low to moderate exercise at least three times per week. Accessible recreational and fitness activities that raise your heart rate, cause you to break a sweat, and build muscle strength are ideal. But exercise doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym or participating in a competitive sport. For many, simply self-ambulating up and down wheelchair ramps is the best way to stay active and healthy.
Whether you rely on your own two feet or a wheelchair or other assistive device for mobility, there are a number of significant benefits to be gained from regular exercise.
1. Improve mood - Harvard Medical School reports that people who move more have a significantly lower risk of major depressive disorders. Endorphins released during exercise can help boost your mood, relieve stress, and regulate sleep. Although exercise is not a silver bullet when it comes to mental health, regular exercise offers immediate and sustained emotional benefits. Loss of mobility, aging, and isolation can lead to depression and studies have shown that routine exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in many people who suffer.
2. Increase strength - Repetitive motion injury is high if you’re using your arms to operate a manual wheelchair. Up and down wheelchair ramps, on and off public transportation, and navigating accessible public spaces is hard work for those who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. Chest, arm, back, and shoulder muscles may need extra attention when motorized wheelchairs are in use. Core, back, and leg muscles should be strengthened to improve balance and prevent falls for those who are able to transport themselves in an upright position. If you rely on a manual wheelchair, made sure it is customized to fit your body to avoid injury while in use. Finding ways to move and stay active are a great way to increase strength and improve overall health.
3. Maintain independence - Whether you’ve lived with a physical disability for decades or are relatively new to navigating life with a mobility challenge, regular exercise to maintain or regain an independent lifestyle is crucial. Reaching, stretching, and self-ambulating require core and upper body strength which is essential to prevent injury. Self-care activities are also important ways to stay physically active as a means of maintaining your independence.
4. Stay connected - The social benefits of regular physical exercise with others are also beneficial for mental health and confidence. Growing and maintaining a social network can provide emotional support. Seeking out others in your community with similar mobility challenges can support a healthy lifestyle while also providing resources and a shared experience with those who understand your challenges.
5. Fight disease - Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise can also help fight heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Work with your health professional to create a fitness routine that addresses your specific concerns and seek out adaptive exercise programs in your community.
Whether accessibility is your challenge or not, if you’re new to regular exercise, don’t forget to start slow and listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard and be sure to stop exercising anytime you feel pain, faint, or dizzy. Most importantly, have fun and remember that regular movement is the key to a long, happy, and healthy life.