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Keeping fit when you have a disability

Man keeping fit in the gym

Exercise is important for your physical health and wellbeing, but a disabled person is half as likely to play sport as a non-disabled person (Sport England). In fact, being active can help to reduce day-to-day issues such as strains, muscle wastage and problems with balance (find out more on the Disability Horizons blog).

No two people are the same, and the advice here may not apply to everyone, but it can give you some inspiration for keeping fit.

Try out a new activity

Challenge yourself to try something new, whilst meeting like-minded people. The Parasport website has a handy search tool which enables you to search for sports by your impairment group.

Furthermore, the NHS website has a list of sport-specific organisations, including those for disabled angling, dancing, walking and horse riding, as well as national bodies aimed at specific disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy Sport and LimbPower.

If you’d prefer to hit the gym rather than get involved in a specific activity, you can search for inclusive gyms on the English Federation of Disability Sport website.

Fitness at home

The idea of a sports class or a gym isn’t for everyone, but there are ways you can improve your fitness from the comfort of your own home. For example, Dom Thorpe (a personal trainer who specialises in clients with disabilities) lists his top 10 exercises for disabled people here, including some tutorial videos. He also has a YouTube channel with a range of exercise videos.

Additionally, some organisations for specific disabilities – such as the MS Society – may be able to provide you with exercises that are particularly beneficial.

Keep it up!

Motivation is a key part of keeping up a fitness regime. Here are some ideas to keep yourself going:

  • Find a friend to train with and motivate each other
  • Book regular exercise sessions into your diary. Even if you visit the gym or do stretches at home, treat them as if you’re attending a class
  • Being consistent is more important than cramming in as much as possible – do small, regular exercise sessions at first, then you can build up to doing more if you want to
  • Do activities that you enjoy. If you find you don’t get on with one activity or location, switch to another
  • Find a coach – there are many personal trainers out there who have experience of fitness coaching for disabled people, including a number of specialist companies
  • Keep track of your progress using a step counter or heart rate monitor.

Eating healthily

Try to eat a variety of foods from the main food groups – fruits and vegetables, starchy foods (such as grains and potatoes), dairy products and proteins (such as meat, eggs and pulses).

Base each meal on a starchy food, such as bread, potatoes, rice or pasta. Wholegrain foods are fantastic if you’re getting active and keeping fit, as they provide you with longer-lasting energy, as well as more fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Upping your intake of fruit and veg can be easier than you think! Here are a few tricks for getting more of the green stuff:

  • Challenge yourself to have at least one portion of fruit or veg with every meal. This can include salad or tomatoes with a sandwich or a handful of raisins in a bowl of cereal
  • Have a smoothie or fruit juice with breakfast or lunch – this will count as one of your five-a-day
  • Throw a handful of frozen peas into pasta, stir fry or stew
  • Have some dried fruit or carrot stick as a snack during the day
  • Add fruit – such as grapes or blueberries – into a salad
  • Get slurping on soup! A veggie soup or stew can be a great way of cramming a wide range of vegetables into your diet (they’re a bottom-of-the-cupboard lifesaver too!)
  • Not a veg fan? Chop them up small and hide them in your favourite dishes!
  • Mix up your intake – eating the same veg every week is bound to feel like a chore.

New to disability?

You can find out what financial support you may be eligible for on this benefits calculator. Scope also has a step-by-step guide to life with a disability – including work, adaptations and care – on its website.

More information

You can read our guide to physical wellbeing, living with a long-term condition or visit our financial, mental, physical and social wellbeing pages.

For more information on disability – including employment, politics, sport, relationships and travel – Disability Horizons has a vast range of blogs and a podcast.

We’re here

Ben is here to provide support for life to those who work in the UK’s automotive industry and their family dependants. If you need support, you can ring our free, confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 or use our online chat.

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