Let me begin by saying that there are a vast amount of disabilities out there and I am by no means an expert on disabilities. I do, however know that people suffering from many disabling conditions can achieve exercise of some form and I want to give encouragement to do anything you can, no matter how small.
Beyond the obvious benefit being weight control, the Mayo Clinic has outlined many other health benefits of regular physical activity. They state that “regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.” Exercise can also stimulate various brain chemicals that can improve your mood and help you relax. Regular exercise can deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently giving you more energy. Physical activity can also promote better sleep and can give you the opportunity to get outside, unwind, and enjoy life.
Plain and simple, sitting too much is just not healthy. I am often asked if I have ever considered using a wheelchair or electric scooter. Those asking say it would be much easier on you than the crutches. Yes, there is no doubt that the crutches can put stress on my body and tire me out quicker than normal walking, but at the same time just walking with the crutches is a fantastic source of exercise. A team of mechanical engineers at Stanford have studied crutch use and say that “walking with crutches requires twice as much energy as normal walking. They also report that users of crutches are essentially doing a push-up with every step.” Beyond that the crutches keep me vertical allowing better blood circulation, they give me the ability to get places a wheelchair can’t go and I have one usable leg so I don’t need a wheelchair.
Exercise becomes even more important if you have a disability that limits your movement. In an article from livestrong.com they have reported that exercise is vital to keeping your blood flowing and to remain as healthy as possible. They also state that there are many forms of exercise that disabled people can do to remain active. Disabled-world.com states: “Keeping the body moving as much as possible in your wheelchair should be a regular part of your daily fitness program. This should be a priority no matter what your disability. Doing regular wheelchair exercise will help you increase your strength, flexibility, improve your mobility, strengthen your heart and lungs, and help you control your weight.” I have found all these things to be true. I find when I get out and exercise I feel stronger, healthier, happier, and more fulfilled in my life. I am up to trying anything, but it is important to find the right form of exercise that works best for you and your disability. A midday walk to get a cup of coffee can often seem like an unneeded painful struggle for me, however just getting up on the crutches and letting my leg swing through each step gets the blood flowing and eases some of the pain. When I get back to my desk I have less pain, feel energized and I am ready to face the rest of my work day. I go to the farthest coffee shop in the concourse simply as a way of forcing myself to walk more.
So how do I get my exercise? First, I have to dismiss all the excuses. “I have too much pain today, I feel tired today, I not feeling great or don’t have the time.” These are all the excuses that I want to use each day. The fact is when I force myself to exercise all these excuses go away. While I am exercising my mind goes away from my leg pain, I feel less tired, and ultimately feel much better. All winter I used the excuse that I had no time with going to work, I had to nip that excuse in the bud and I adjusted my work schedule to make daily exercise fit in.
Get a Workout
I go to the gym every other day after work. At the gym I work out every part of my body I can that doesn’t cause stress to my left leg. I find myself constantly wanting to accomplish more and more physically. The more I push, the more I accomplish the better I feel both physically and mentally. Each week I push myself to add a few additional chin ups to my exercise regime. I do a 60 minute workout sitting or hanging from my arms. Most gyms are filled with equipment that can be used sitting without the use of your legs. They all have trainers that can help you figure out what you can do as well.
At some point along my surgery and physical therapy journey, I was asked if I had a bicycle. It had never occurred to me that I would be able to pedal a bike with my left foot and ankle, but I was told to get on the bike and give it a try. To my disbelief, not only was it possible, but I also enjoyed it. Here’s the thing. If exercise is fun you can do it. I found that riding my bike was freeing, I couldn’t go for a walk but I could ride my bike for miles and I did. Yes, the pedaling does cause some pain to my leg, but it is tolerable, so the overall benefits I get from bike riding outweighs the pain.
From the time I had my cast removed after my first surgery, swimming has been one of my favorite forms of exercise. Like biking it is enjoyable so I am getting exercise without giving it a thought. From that first time I slipped into the deep end of the pool, after getting the okay from my surgeon, the sense of relief was tremendous. I still had weeks and weeks to go of being non weight bearing on crutches, but in that pool my arms were free from the crutches and I could swim all around the pool and be just like everyone else. Since then swimming has gotten me through five additional recoveries and is now a wonderful source of exercise. Each spring I can’t wait for the weather to break so I can release my arms from my crutches, slip into the pool and feel the freedom of movement without pain or crutches.
I also ski and snowshoe adaptively in the winter. See earlier post Playing In The Snow.
Exercise is not only beneficial to your physical well-being but it also helps your mental health immensely. Finding ways to exercise and ways to get out and be active has helped to replace all the things I have had to give up. The hard part might be to find exercise that you can do. My advice is to talk about what exercises might work for you with your doctor, physical therapist, or a qualified trainer. There are also many adaptive sports programs out there. Their goal is to give people with disabilities freedom and exercise through sport. Do a Google search to find one near you. Find a way to exercise that works with your disability and push yourself. It will completely change how you feel about yourself for the better.
Thanks for reading and get out and exercise! Please subscribe for new post email notifications or come back in two weeks for a new story!