One in five of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over – around 6.2 million people – is diagnosed with one or more disabilities. Additionally, 42% of adults with a disability rate their health as being poor or fair (compared to just 7% of adults without a disability). Although it can be challenging to figure out how to start exercising, when you have a physical disability, it’s doable as long as you have a positive attitude and know where to start.

Importance of working out

People with disabilities are more likely to live inactive lifestyles and are therefore at increased risk of health conditions like heart disease. Additionally, they may also have limited use of one or more limbs or body parts, which in turn increases risk of muscle wastage, contractures, loss of function, and immobility. For example, people with cerebral palsy (a common motor disorder) typically experience mobility issues, resulting in difficulty or painful walking or not being able to walk at all. Fortunately, treatments for cerebral palsy include surgery to loosen tight muscles and release fixed joints to improve mobility. Surgery can also be used to relieve orthopedic issues like hip dislocation. In addition to treatments like surgery and physiotherapy, people with disabilities should also exercise regularly to reduce health risks. Regular exercise offers a host of health benefits, including weight loss (or weight maintenance), lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, healthy joints, and heart health.

Focus on bodyweight exercises

Bodyweight exercises that use your own weight to provide resistance against gravity can be an effective way to build strength, endurance, coordination, and balance when you have a disability. So, start with bodyweight exercises that can help you move around better in your everyday life. For example, if you find it difficult to move from your chair to your bed, turn this move into a bonafide exercise and repeat it at least four times in one go. This can help improve lower body strength and stability. You can also make use of mobility equipment like your wheelchair and support rails around your home; pushing and pulling can strengthen your upper body. Although you may find these bodyweight exercises challenging at first, they’ll become easier over time as you gain power and strength.

Be consistent and pace yourself

When it comes to health and fitness, consistency is key. Physical disabilities typically mean you move less and burn fewer calories on a daily basis, but you can compensate for this by doing regular exercise that offsets a sedentary lifestyle. Consistent movement, no matter how small, will improve your fitness significantly over time. So, set a workout schedule and get your workouts in at the same time each week. It’s also important to pace yourself: when figuring out how to start exercising, slow and don’t push yourself beyond your limits. This will help maintain your motivation and allow you to increase activity when you’re ready.

Regular exercise has a host of benefits for people with disabilities. By prioritizing bodyweight exercises, being consistent, and pacing yourself, you can improve your mobility, health, and fitness over time.