Independent living is about being able to do the things you want to do when you want to do them. To stay independent you need to be able to reach, bend, lift, carry, and move around safely. Staying physically active helps you keep moving and stay strong.
Combining fitness with skill training can improve your overall independence. Functional exercises, such as walking, transferring and bearing weight, can help make daily activities easier. Remember to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Exercise strengthens your heart and lungs.
When you exercise, your blood travels more efficiently, bringing oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. This is one reason why you may feel refreshed and more energetic after exercise. Increased energy makes activities of daily living easier and lessens dependence on others. Regular exercise also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It may reduce your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
Exercise builds and maintains healthy muscles, bones and joints.
Your muscles and bones need to be challenged to maintain and build strength. Strong muscles and bones improve balance and co-ordination, reducing your risk of falls. Strength training exercises such as lifting weights or working with resistance tubing help maintain bone density. Exercise where you bear your body’s weight, such as standing and walking, are also important. Keeping muscles, bones and joints strong helps you maintain your independence and quality of life.
Exercise helps manage weight.
Burning calories through exercise can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Using more calories than you consume assists in reducing body fat. Less excess weight makes activities of daily living, such as transferring out of a wheelchair, easier. You also feel and look better.
Exercise can help you manage stress and can reduce pain and ease depression.
Exercise fights depression by activating serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain. The levels of these chemicals and their balance with each other play a role in how you react to daily events. Exercise may help coordinate these brain chemicals. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which relieve pain, reduce stress and produce feelings of well-being.
An ongoing exercise program can improve your flexibility and body composition. This can improve your acceptance of your body and your feelings about your physical abilities and independence. This will improve self-esteem, in turn elevating your mood.
Cardiovascular fitness involves how efficiently your heart and lungs deliver oxygen to working muscles. Cardiovascular training benefits your heart, circulatory system and lungs. Continuous activity increases the rate at which your heart beats.
Cardiovascular training includes:
Muscular fitness refers to strength and endurance of muscles. The more fit your muscles are, the easier daily tasks become. These could be lifting groceries, taking a bath, transferring out of a wheelchair, or opening a heavy door. Types of strength training include free weights, resistance bands, weight machines and body weight exercises.
Flexibility is the ability to move your joints through a full range of motion. Stretching maintains your body’s flexibility. Keeping joints flexible reduces your chance of injury or the permanent shortening of your muscles and tendons (called contractures). When you are flexible, routine tasks such as lifting packages, bending to tie your shoe or getting dressed are easier and less tiring.
The Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability (ALACD) promotes, supports and enables Canadians with disabilities to lead active, healthy lives. Call 1-800-771-0663, check the website www.ala.ca or e-mail Ron Neff at email@example.com.
The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD) is an information center concerned with physical activity and disability. Go on-line at www.ncpad.org or call 1-800-900-8086.
Calgary’s Recreation Discovery is a resource directory with information on recreation and leisure opportunities for people with disabilities. It promotes disability agencies and organizations throughout Calgary that provide recreation and leisure programs. Community services and resources listed offer a starting point to help find active living opportunities. If you would like a printed copy of the guide, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (403) 268-2026.
Check out the Canadian Society for Exercise Professionals website www.csep.ca for the certification standards of appropriate trainers.
Exercise and barriers go hand in hand. Not having enough time to exercise or knowing how to exercise safely are barriers that almost everyone faces at some point in their exercise career. Unfortunately, barriers for those with physical disabilities can be greater and require creativity and planning to overcome.
Can you really get enough exercise without joining a fitness facility? Of course! Many exercises can be done at home. For instance, soup cans or water bottles filled with sand or gravel can be used as weights.
Another option is to look at programs that offer fee assistance. Perhaps you could volunteer some time (such as organizing fitness equipment) to offset the cost.
If you decide to exercise at a fitness facility, choose one that has been designed or renovated to meet your needs. Can you access all levels of the facility? Does it have a washroom that you can use? What kind of equipment is available? Has it been adapted for persons with disabilities? Choosing the right location to exercise is the first step in making your exercise program successful.
Many cities offer transportation service for those who may not be able to use public transportation. Once you decide where to exercise and how you are going to get there, consider making a permanent booking with one of the transportation services. This will help make your exercise routine a regular part of your week.
Sometimes seeking information is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Word of mouth is a great way to get started. Talk to your friends and find out what they are doing. Consider sharing an activity with a workout partner to help stay motivated. Another way to find information is to call local recreation facilities about the programs they offer. Look for information on the Internet, in the phone book, or at your local library.
However you choose to exercise, make sure it is safe and is approved by your doctor. If you choose to join a fitness program with an instructor or to consult with an exercise professional, research their levels of certification and experience. Those with a degree in kinesiology or certification from the Canadian Society of Exercise Professionals (CSEP) or American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have the knowledge and experience needed to develop a program for your unique needs.