At the beginning of every year, many people embrace the tradition of new year’s resolutions to lose weight and be healthier. However, individuals with limited to no mobility, including seniors and persons living with physical disabilities, often face many barriers to maintaining health and wellness. Healthy activities such as exercise and risk prevention programs are more challenging with lower levels of mobility. So, how do persons with disabilities achieve a healthier lifestyle in order to reach their new year’s resolutions?
Promoting health equity for persons with physical disabilities is a critical issue with more than 34 million adults in the U.S. and about 500,000 adults in Maryland reporting a mobility disability (CDC). Physical exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and social support are integral components to wellness for everyone, but managing these healthy habits may be more crucial for people with physical disabilities. Having limited or no mobility increases chronic health risks such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity reduces the likelihood of developing chronic diseases, increases heart and lung function, and improves independence. Additionally, extensive research has illustrated the causal link between healthy living and improved emotional health.
Disability Partnerships is helping to address this health equity issue with its Adaptive Health and Wellness for All classes. The free virtual classes are offered two days per week for six weeks. Since launching the program, the organization has completed two sets of six-week courses. The current round of classes will end on January 27, 2021.
Maintaining physical and mental health has proven more vital during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not only to reduce the risk of developing a serious illness, but also to combat the negative health outcomes associated with increased social isolation and stress. Regular exercise is critical to a healthy lifestyle, and with the public health risks currently associated with gyms, team sports, and group fitness classes, many have struggled to maintain their healthy routines. Exercising while living with physical disabilities can be challenging even without the restraints of COVID-19. Individuals with limited or no mobility often face barriers to fitness activities including inaccessible indoor facilities and outdoor environments, lack of transportation, and lack of knowledge about exercises suitable for various circumstances and physical conditions. Disability Partnerships is making fitness more accessible by utilizing an online format to reach a broader audience than would otherwise be possible. The program also provides free exercise equipment, such as dumbbells or bands, to participants in need.
Solomon, the exercise physiologist who leads the class, is popular among participants for his motivating energy and innovative exercises. He creates an inclusive, engaging environment from the start of each class by greeting everyone by name, encouraging participation, correcting form when needed, and playing high tempo music which keeps everyone moving and dancing. Workouts are low to moderate intensity and target muscular strength, flexibility, and range of motion. All exercises can be completed sitting or standing and Solomon demonstrates modifications for each movement to account for differing abilities.
Marcy, a regular in the class, remarked, "I learned how to exercise safely, how to pace myself and push myself, and how to modify yet effectively move. I've needed to lose weight for years, but was afraid to exercise for fear of causing myself further damage. Now I can finally get healthy, get stronger, move easier, and preserve my mobility and independence as I age. This group is an answer to a long time prayer, and I no longer fear ending up in a nursing home."
Improving mobility and increasing physical activity are among central program goals, but the class also emphasizes adaptive fitness education and alleviating stress through socialization. The risk of social isolation in communities with limited or no mobility has been exacerbated by the pandemic which has further reduced opportunities for social connection. Participants and staff converse and joke with each other at the start of each class, and Solomon often calls people by name, sends out words of encouragement, and sprinkles in adaptive exercise tips and education throughout class. A recent evaluation of the program revealed the critical importance of group exercise to improve participants’ emotional health.
By providing free live exercise classes and equipment for individuals living with limited or no mobility, Disability Partnerships is making health and wellness for all more attainable one person at a time. For more information and to register for class, please visit our Adaptive Wellness page.
Disability Partnerships Receives $25,000 Quality Of Life Grant From Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation For Health 4 All Program