Working It Out

Exercise can be beneficial. But is it for you? Before engaging in any exercise regimen, you must get the green light from your doctor or health-care professional.

Some will trade in calorie dense meals for lighter fare, while others will participate in fun activities as there is more time to play in the warmer months. Summer's here, and for most people, that means a commitment to becoming more fit, whether through diet or exercise.

Physical activity is limitless in more ways than one. It's available to those who use wheelchairs just as it for those who do not, and the wide range of activity offered isn't just restricted to the confines of a gym. There are other fun ways to break a sweat such as golfing, basketball or other simple activities that can be done in the privacy of your own home.

The type of exercise you do depends on what you like. For instance, if you go out and buy an exercise bike and it's not what you enjoy, you won't use it, says Amy Rauworth, associate director of the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability in Chicago. The mission of the National Center of Physical Activity and Disability is to promote substantial health benefits that can be gained from participating in regular physical activity. Its mission was created from the consensus that physical activity is a key to optimal health, that inactivity is a serious health concern for people with disabilities, and that people with disabilities are at greater risk than the general populations for developing secondary health conditions due to sedentary lifestyle.

Determine whether or not exercising is safe for you
In most cases, exercise can be beneficial to most conditions. If you or unsure whether or not you should be exercising or if you have contraindications to exercise because of your condition, consult your physician. Typically exercise may not be advisable for those with unstable conditions.

For instance, a contraindication for a person with post polio would be to utilize heavy weights and resistance training because it's been proven not to work. Another example of a contraindication is people with multiple sclerosis may need to manage their fatigue to determine what time of day is best for them to exercise. Exercising at the wrong time of day could lead to such extreme exhaustion that they're unable to perform other duties, Rauworth adds.

"It's about taking in all of those personal and contextual factors to create the best opportunity for that person to be physically active," she says.

The Benefits
"Exercise is important for people with physical disabilities just as it is for people without disabilities," Rauworth believes. "The benefits of exercise are extensive, and it's been proven through research. Obviously we can increase not only our quality of life, but we can also increase the health of our lungs."

Rauworth quoted statistics from the 1997 U.S. Census data that stated 52.6 million Americans have some type of disability, which amounts to approximately one out of every five Americans or 20 percent of the population. The benefits of physical activity are similar for all people with and without disabilities. They include increased cardiac and pulmonary function, improved ability to perform activities of daily living, protection against development of chronic diseases such as cancer, type II diabetes or secondary conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure. Exercising can help by decreasing anxiety and depression, enhancing feelings of well-being, control weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It also improves a person's ability to perform activities of daily living such as dressing and transferring, Rauworth says.

Not only does activity help physically, but it does mentally as well. It increases self esteem and decreases depression, she adds. Working out is about relieving stress and having a good time while you're doing it.

Who says you can't have a little fun?

When people generally think of fitness, they envision perfect people running around from machine to machine at the gym. But that's only one level. You may consider leisure physical activity, which could be golfing or gardening or anything you consider relaxing.
Sometimes joining a class, kayaking with a friend or family member or rolling in the park can be socially healthy for you, Rauworth says.
"It has to be something that you really enjoy and not something that feels like another task added to your list of duties."

There's even another level of fitness that is task oriented. Rauworth says when going to get the mail instead of gathering it all at one time, if you have five pieces go out to the mailbox five times. Or if you're doing laundry, put each piece a way separately.

"There are little things you can do that are task oriented that can increase your activity level," she says, "so those are things that you may not even think about as being part of your physical activity program, but yet they are."

Manufacturers have even jumped on the bandwagon in thinking of ways to get people interested in exercise. Take for example the GameCycle developed by Three Rivers with funding help from the National Institute of Health. The GameCycle was created for people who exercise with their arms.
"We wanted to design from the ground up an exercise system for someone who wanted to exercise with their arms and we wanted to make it fun and interesting so we decided to connect that exercise system to a Nintendo GameCube," says Ron Boninger, owner and partner in Three-Rivers Holding LLC in Mesa, Ariz.
It was also important for the company to turn the negative of addictive gaming into a positive by making exercise and rehab as fun as gaming.

The National Institute of Health got involved because of the lack of exercises available for someone with spinal cord injuries, Boninger says. And lack of exercise is one of the reasons why people with disabilities experience additional issues, whether it's cardiovascular disease or gaining weight and things of that nature.

There's no way of cheating the system when it comes to the GameCycle. In order to play the game, you must be steering or turning the exercise system. The GameCycle is beneficial to manual wheel chair users because it exercises different muscles than they normally use.

"We didn't want to use those same muscles because they're already in some ways over used so these are actually muscles that are complimentary to the ones you would use when pushing a wheelchair," Boninger said. The reason being is because you don’t want less developed muscles next to the over developed muscles." So what the GameCycle does is balance the exercise those who use wheel chairs get everyday from pushing a manual chair.

Work those muscles, the nontraditional way

"So many people dread exercising and if we can make it more of a positive experience for people, then they will want to do it more," Boninger says. "There's also not a lot of opportunities to smile and have fun, and you'll take someone and they'll start playing a GameCycle and before they started they might have a relatively solemn face, and the minute they start no matter who it is young or old, immediately there's a smile on their face because it's fun, challenging and interesting."

It's equally important for kids to get out and work their muscles just as it is for adults. Freedom Concepts has designed a group of mobility devices (bicycles) that help to promote reciprocal movement and is used as both a therapeutic device and for recreation. Susana Schanel, marketing coordinator of Freedom Concepts in Winnipeg, Manitoba, says the mobility devices are created for someone 18 months in age up to adulthood. Therapists also use the devices to meet therapy goals. For those who don't have control over arm movement, there are Velcro gloves to keep a person's hands attached to the handle bars. The bikes are very customizable and even those with the severest conditions can ride them, Schanel says.

One of the main features is a rear steering aspect, where the child looks and feels like they're in control; but the caregiver, therapist or parent is actually behind him steering the bicycle.
"It gives them at least the appearance of the freedom and feeling like they're in control," she says. "But at all times, whoever is pushing the bike behind them is in control."

As you can see, physical fitness is not just about building big muscles, but more about relieving mental stress and constructing a healthy lifestyle. Implementing exercise into your life can help to lighten your load. Rauworth sums it up simply: "the stronger you are, the more fit you are. And the better you feel, the easier everything else is going to be."
So why not get moving today?

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