Anatomical Concepts (UK)
Masters of Rehabilitation Engineering

Derek Jones: Anatomical Concepts (UK) Blog

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Finding fitness despite disability

Improving and maintaining our fitness is important for all of us. If you are disabled and have limited mobility, keeping fit and active can feel much more difficult, but it doesn't have to be this way. In any case, keeping fit has a big pay off when it comes to gaining quality of life for the long term. You can look upon exercise as the best medicine.

Physically disabled people are apparently the least active group in society but make up around a fifth of Britain's population, almost 14 million people. According to Sports England, who are useful resource of information, disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as able-bodied people.

Claire Lomas is a well known advocate of the RehaMove FES system as part of her fitness routine

Claire Lomas is a well known advocate of the RehaMove FES system as part of her fitness routine

This is despite a recent report from the Activity Alliance that found that 83% of people with a physical disability would like to be more active and think it's important. There are certainly physical, emotional and practical barriers that make exercise difficult to achieve in practice. The benefits for all of us that come from being active include, reduced blood pressure and heart disease, improved mental health and improved metabolism to name but a few.

Although exercise is often cited as the key to losing weight, research shows that exercise is really more suitable for maintaining weight and diet should be considered too if weight loss is the aim. Don't just think about the amount of food you eat - it is the kind of foods we eat that make the difference.

Exercise is a great way of naturally combating depression and low mood and if you exercise with a group there are the additional benefits that come from joining with a community of other like minded people.

Depending on the nature of the disability, certain limbs or body parts may have a limited ability to move and are therefore subject to loss of muscle mass, contractures, reduced bone strength and circulation.

Many of our clients use a RehaMove FES cycling system at home for exercise benefits following a spinal cord injury or other condition such as MS or stroke. Research shows this works well in helping keep fit and boosts cardiovascular health but unfortunately not everyone can afford such technology.

Given some guidance, disability needn't be an insurmountable barrier to exercise whatever your circumstances. For example, using your body weight and utilising your everyday environment can be way to gain fitness. If simply transferring from a wheelchair to a bed is a challenge you could recognise that repeating this more frequently would make you fitter and stronger.

Research also shows that for fitness you don’t have to submit to some intensive and gruelling workout to gain benefits. Overall it is exercise volume rather than intensity that matters when it comes to fitness.

The fundamentals of fitness don’t change with disability but adaptations may need to be made. Some of our therapy partners now have superb gym facilities that are suitable for disabled persons to use and have technology such as the RehaMove FES Cycling systems.

Most importantly, these facilities know how to assess each person and guide them to exercise safely. Like most things in life once you take the first steps and have some momentum it is easier to maintain that momentum.

Also organisations such as the RoopraiSpinalTrust (RS Trust), the PopUpGym in the NE and Matt Hampson’s Foundation do superb charitable work in supporting and inspiring persons with a disability to get fit and enjoy life to the full.