The rise in popularity of parasport has brought the fitness of wheelchair users much more into the public eye than ever before. Clearly, not everyone is cut out to be an Olympic medallist or a marathon winner, but being more active will bring you important health benefits which in turn can help you manage your daily life, too.
Why you should get active
Physical activity is obviously good for both your mental and physical health, but it can also be a great way of meeting people and socialising.
Using a wheelchair can make it harder to take part in cardiovascular activity that raises your heart rate and warms you up enough to make you sweat but this kind of activity is really important for your heart and lungs. Missing out on this type of exercise can also contribute to weight gain over a relatively short period of time.
The physical act of pushing or manoeuvring a wheelchair can make certain upper body muscles prone to strain and other injuries. Strengthening exercises can help you to manage your wheelchair more effectively in daily life and will also help you to avoid these sorts of injuries.
How much activity?
It is recommended by health professionals that all adults carry out at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week and muscle-working activity on two or more days per week. These guidelines can help wheelchair users too. Although you will probably not be doing anywhere near that volume of physical activity, even small increases in physical activity will bring health benefits.
What kind of activity?
The kind of physical activity that is right for you will depend firstly on your level of ability and also on what appeals to you. Your aim could be just to improve certain aspects of your daily life or you might be seeking to drastically improve your physical fitness and get involved in competitive sport.
Effective cardiovascular exercise should leave you warm enough to break a sweat and slightly out of breath; enough to still hold a conversation but not be able to sing a song. Aim to start with 10 minute sessions and build up gradually to 20 minutes if you’re not used to regular exercise.
Activities that might suit you include:
- wheelchair sprinting, in a studio or at a track
- using a rowing machine adapted for wheelchair use
- wheelchair sports, such as basketball, netball and badminton
It’s important that you focus on certain muscle groups when choosing a suitable regimen. Wheelchair users often suffer from chest and shoulder injuries as they are in continual use whilst back muscles can become weaker. For this reason, focus on working the smaller muscles that support the pushing motion, the shoulders for example and strengthen those that involve a pulling motion, like the back muscles.
Many gyms have specially adapted gym equipment for use by wheelchair users. For those who would rather work-out at home, resistance bands can be very useful.
Once you’ve decided that you would like to get yourself more fit, you can begin to research what’s available in your area.
Parasport is a great organisation dedicated to helping people with disabilities to get more involved in sport. They also include a self-assessment facility on their website to help you find the right sport for you.
Check out the website at your local sports centre or gym for information on what they have to offer. A quick phone call should confirm whether they offer classes specifically for wheelchair users and whether they have specially adapted gym equipment.
Wheelchair dancing is a fantastic fun way of getting exercise and you don’t need a partner to take part in classes. Or if you like racquet sports, how about tennis?
There’s certainly something for everyone!
With Christmas and the party season just around the corner, now’s a great time to start getting a head-start on all those calories by getting yourself a bit fitter.