Disability can pose challenges to exercise regime

Exercise and fitness are mainstream words in the daily vocabulary of many Americans. But because of increased portion sizes at […]

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Exercise and fitness are mainstream words in the daily vocabulary of many Americans. But because of increased portion sizes at our favorite restaurants, decreased physical activity and a culture that integrates food into every aspect of our lives, Americans continue to increase in size.

Although exercise and fitness are not new concepts, the prevalence of obesity in Americans is. According to a 2000 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, the number of obese adult Americans increased more than 50 percent between 1980 and 2000. In 2007, Minne-sota’s prevalence of obesity was 25.6 percent. The lowest ranked state, Colorado, was at 18.7 percent.

Individuals with disabilities often report difficulty in gaining the ability and means to take part in physical activity. Limited use of arms and legs can decrease the ability to perform activity that promotes weight loss and builds strength. The lack of proper accessible facilities, equipment and knowledgeable staff at exercise facilities are also barriers.

The Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois found that 54 million people report some type of disability. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System found that 37 percent of individuals who have disabilities report themselves as having poor health, whereas only 8 percent of individuals without disabilities report their health as poor. Obesity often creates many secondary health conditions that can have a significant impact on an individual’s primary disability. Decreased function and independence, in relation to weight gain, become substantial concerns.

Although there are limited numbers of accessible, public fitness options for people who have disabilities, it doesn’t mean that individuals with disabilities cannot participate in physical activity. The first step is to find out which physical activities increase your heart rate. Keep in mind that what works for some may not work for others.

Choose activities that can be done within the home. Although it is important to participate in some community activities, realistically, for many individuals with a disability, getting outside in bad weather isn’t an option. Finding physical activities to do at home will allow people to stay active. Some people have found chair exercise videos, therapy bands and small hand weights to work well.

If you need assistance to participate in physical activities, find someone who is knowledgeable or willing to learn about your abilities and your primary medical diagnosis. Many personal trainers and exercise staff have limited knowledge of exercising with a disability. If you choose to participate in physical activity at a community center or a health and fitness club, know that you may have to train the staff before the staff trains you.

A Web site directory of specialized personal trainers is at www.ncpad.org/trainers/index.php Or ask if your outpatient clinic has recommendations for exercise ideas or therapists.

Other resources that can help you work toward increasing physical activity in your life include:


In one day, there are 1,440 minutes. Try to set aside at least 30 minutes to move your body in any way you can. As basketball player Julius Erving said, “If you don’t do what’s good for your body, you’re the one who comes out on the short end.”

Amanda Boerboom is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare

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