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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Gordon

The Power of Exercise: A Guide for People Living with Disabilities

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Hi, my name is Charlie. I'm an Exercise Physiologist at Movement Innovation, located in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast. As someone who often gets asked, "What does an exercise physiologist do?" I wanted to take a moment to break it down for you.

In essence, an exercise physiologist leverages exercise as a medicine or a tool to improve someone's health, well-being, or physical function. Our work ranges from helping professional athletes to individuals living with chronic diseases and disabilities.

Understanding the Power of Exercise

Exercise is a powerful tool. It is particularly crucial for those living with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, adults with disabilities are three times more likely to encounter health conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer. Unfortunately, statistics show that only around 36% of adults with disabilities meet the recommended weekly physical activity.

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of most chronic conditions by improving cardiovascular health, enhancing body composition, promoting better blood sugar control, boosting our immune system, and improving mental health. This can be achieved through both strength training and aerobic activity, both of which I've discussed in detail in previous blog posts.

When tailored to each person's unique circumstances, exercise can make everyday tasks easier, promote independence, and enhance overall health and well-being. Whether it's strength exercises for your upper body to assist with mobility, or flexibility exercises to help maintain independence in everyday tasks, exercise can be an empowering tool in managing and overcoming the challenges of living with a disability.

Beyond Health and Well-being

Indeed, exercise can serve as a potent tool to achieve very specific goals that go beyond general health and well-being. Goals can range from enhancing physical function, and managing pain, to even engaging in sports and athletics. I've had the pleasure of guiding people to achieve incredible milestones.

For instance, one client aimed to build enough upper body strength to transfer from the ground to his crutches, enabling him to enjoy the ocean with minimum family assistance. You can read about his journey in this blog post.

In another scenario, I worked with an individual who aimed to enhance their flexibility to maintain their independence, particularly for daily tasks like putting their shoes on. You can learn more about this experience in another blog post.

More recently, I helped a lady with an intellectual disability to build her fitness to the level where she could complete an entire grocery shopping trip without needing a break. Each of these stories highlights the transformative power of exercise in achieving personal and meaningful goals.

Starting Your Exercise Journey

So how can you get started with exercising? The process is quite straightforward. There are six simple steps to follow:

  1. Establish Your Goal: Make your goal specific and realistic. This goal should be compelling enough to keep you consistent.

  2. Identify Your Barriers: Identify what prevents you from achieving your goal. What's stopping you?

  3. Establish a Baseline: Measure your current ability as a starting point.

  4. Choose Your Exercises: Select exercises within your ability that work towards your goal.

  5. Set Mini Goals: These are stepping stones on the way to your main goal.

  6. Get Started and Stay Consistent: Begin the exercises and strive for consistency.

Here are two examples of how this might look in real life:

Example 1: Your goal is to put on your shoes independently. The barrier might be limited flexibility. You measure your current flexi

bility level, and then you choose exercises to improve this. Along the journey, you set mini goals like reaching your ankles comfortably. You then start doing these exercises every evening before bed.

Example 2: You want to shop without needing a break. The barrier is poor fitness. To establish a baseline, you measure how long you can currently shop before needing a rest. You select cardio exercises like walking laps in a pool. Your mini goal might be shopping for 10 minutes without a break. You then start doing the pool laps three times a week.

The secret to seeing the benefits of exercise is consistency. Celebrate every achievement, no matter how small, and settle into a routine. In no time, you will look back on how far you have come.

Exercise Intensity: A Crucial Component

Determining the right exercise intensity can be challenging, but I have a couple of guidelines. For strength exercises, aim for a weight where the last couple of repetitions are challenging. For cardio exercises like walking, work at an intensity where you begin to sweat after about 10 minutes. For stretching, aim to feel the pull in your muscles but not to the point of pain.

Staying Motivated

It's normal for motivation to ebb and flow. The key is not to rely on it but to set up strategies to keep going even when motivation wanes. This might be setting and celebrating mini goals, finding a workout buddy, enlisting a coach for accountability, or focusing on the post-workout glow rather than just the workout itself.

I hope this blog post encourages you to embrace the power of exercise. The six steps outlined here can truly help you change your life for the better. I've seen it happen with numerous clients. Please reach out if you need any more guidance. Happy exercising!



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