Fitness is essential for the physically disabled and goes a long way in strengthening their body and keeping the spirits high

Physical disability does not mean watching friends exercise, go to the gym, play games and have fun while you sit aside. Nor does it mean a sedentary lifestyle with minimal mobility. Fact is that those with physical disabilities need exercise as much as their able-bodied counterparts. Exercise is important throughout one’s life, for all irrespective of one’s physical or mental condition, to maintain flexibility, strength and keep one’s spirit up.

Disability may mean a reduced range of motion in some areas. But far from an inactive, passive existence, a regular exercise routine benefits overall health, fitness and movement for the differently-abled. Every part of the human body has a function. If you don’t use it you lose it. Exercise for the challenged are thus crucial and recommended depending on the disability.

Focus on the ability

Before exercising focus on the abilities- on what one can do and not on what one cannot. Walking is one of the most natural and beneficial exercise. Dr. C.P. Jayanand, Chest Specialist, says, “Those with disabilities too need exercise. If one can walk with the aid of a cane, crutch or walker one should. If not the leg muscles would be disused, atrophied or further emaciated due to lack of movement. The knee joints turn stiff adding to the disability. Every muscle in our body, if it responds to exercise, should be toned and strengthened.

The walking may be slow, but it is sure to make one self-reliant. Besides, walking also pumps up the heart rate improving overall health.” Walking towards independence thus should be the motto.

As an inactive, passive existence is accepted as routine; a disabled individual is inclined to lead a sedentary life-style with restricted movement. This leads to fat accumulation.

The ability to control body weight adds to the handicap. A strict diet and decrease in calorie intake is only half the problem solved. Apart from obesity, immobility has an adverse affect on all bodily functions that cause digestive, circulatory and other lifestyle diseases. Exercise is thus crucial to control, delay and prevent such ailments that the challenged are vulnerable to.

For the wheel-chair bound

Those in wheelchairs too need exercise to strengthen their arms and upper bodies to help them manoeuvre with comfortable ease. Vishnu Prasad, Physiotherapist of Lisie Hospital Erankulam, says, “Most wheelchair-bound patients whose arms are fit to steer themselves around require exercise to strengthen their upper bodies to meet the daily demands.

Apart from dumb bells to strengthen the arms other exercises like flexion of arms, neck, head etc will improve flexibility. To strengthen the wrist, squeeze balls can be used. These movements are necessary for them to cope with their disability.”

Swimming is fast gaining popularity as one of the best forms of physical therapy for the disabled. The floating sensation and the easy gliding movements of limbs underwater give a sense of freedom and exhilaration to those whose movements are impaired. Susheela Venugopal, swimming instructor of Rajeev Gandhi Indoor swimming pool, says, “Swimming allows a greater range of motion as you feel your body weight much lighter. Depending on the type of swimming it focuses on specific body parts or combines many movements into a complete head to toe activity.

Over the years many with minor ailments ranging from back and knee pain, arthritis to severe disabilities have benefited after learning swimming. Every Wednesday, a bus load of disabled (paraplegia, autism, paralysis) children from Adarsh Special School come here to swim. Apart from the therapeutic effect the joy and exuberance while swimming raises the confidence and self-esteem of these children.”

A physically challenged individual has many psychological and emotional challenges too. Feelings of inadequacy, self-pity and gloom are common. Exercise refreshes body, mind and spirit and helps them cope with despair and pessimism. A positive attitude is crucial. So get out and get going.

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