If you want to be healthy, physical activity and exercise should form part of your life. If you're a wheelchair user, it can be easy to overlook physical fitness and exercise. But getting active will bring you important health benefits and can help you manage daily life, too. Whatever your preferences and level of physical ability, there will be options that are right for you.
The English Federation of Disability Sport guide called 'Being Active - An every day guide for people living with an impairment or health condition' will give you the information you need to start getting active.
How much activity?
The Department of Health says adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-level aerobic activity a week, and muscle-strengthening activity on two or more days a week.
Moderate intensity physical activities will cause you to get warmer and breathe harder and your heart will beat faster, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. A good indicator is if you’re too breathless to sing a song but not to talk.
An easy way to get your 150 minutes would be to do 30 minutes on five days of the week.
Don't worry about hitting these targets straight away: it's more important to do something active that you enjoy. Many wheelchair users will not be doing anywhere near that volume of physical activity. If that's you, then see these guidelines as a goal, which you should take small steps towards. If you're unused to exercise or you haven't exercised for some time, aim to start with 10-minute sessions and gradually build up towards 20 minutes.
Remember: even small increases in physical activity will bring health benefits.
Getting active doesn’t have to mean getting sporty
Physical activity doesn't have to mean the gym or competitive sport, though these can be great options. Activity can take many forms and happen in many places.
If you currently do very little physical activity or exercise, you should start by increasing everyday activities. This will help to improve your health, consider some of the following ideas:
- Cleaning and other household chores
- Wheel to the shops rather than getting in the car
- Pushing around a local park or trail
- Playing games with family members
The kinds of physical activity that are right for you depend on your level of physical ability and the types of activity that appeal to you. Do what you can and take breaks when you need to. Once you feel ready you can consider progressing to some planned exercise sessions.
Always seek advice from your GP, Physio, or a trained exercise professional regarding the type and amount of physical activity and exercise you should be doing.
Frequently asked questions about being active
Why should I be more active?
Being active will improve your health and wellbeing both physically and mentally.
Being active also has enormous social benefits, getting you out and about and meeting new people.
Whatever your impairment or health condition, becoming more active can only make you fitter and healthier.
You may feel tired after exercising, but in the long term it will give you more energy.
Regular exercise can help you with everyday activities. It can boost memory, reduce stress and improve sleep.
Consider exercising outside and with other people. Experts say that’s the perfect combination.
Try 20 minutes of exercise a day, enough to make you sweat. That’s two hours 30 minutes a week.
How hard should you exercise? Enough to make you too breathless to sing but not to talk.
How do I get more active?
- Talk to healthcare professionals to work out which activities best suit you.
- Start slowly and build up – exercise is no quick fix. Don’t do more today than you can manage tomorrow.
- Pick an activity you enjoy. It needn’t be sport, just something that gets you moving and your heart pumping.
- Try to think of activities that work your heart and help flexibility, strength, co-ordination and balance.
- Don’t fear going along and getting involved – more and more places are becoming accessible.
- Providers can not use health and safety as an excuse – the law allows disabled people to make our own choices about what we want to try.
- If you want to try a sport or use a facility you have a right to ask, and to expect people to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate you.
What if I don’t feel confident enough?
- There are lots of excuses out there – all of them will keep you inactive.
- Who cares what you look like? Do what you enjoy, or try something you never have before.
- Think of different ways of exercising. There are many exercises you can do at home with no or cheap equipment.
- Try to build exercise into your daily life. Take the stairs, walk to the shops, exercise while watching the TV.
- Exercises DVDs are very popular, and lots of exercises require no equipment at all.
- Low-impact exercise minimises the chance of injury. Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are great for improving muscle strength, tone and balance.
- How about walking or pushing? You don’t need to get changed or warm up, and it can be incorporated into your daily life.
- How about cycling? A great form of transport, there are more cycling routes and lanes than ever before.
- How about the gym? Find an accessible gym full of accessible facilities, equipment and well-trained staff.
- How about swimming? One of the safest ways to exercise, being in the water maximises the benefit you get from your movements.
- There are loads of accessible sports out there. Try a few and find the one you most enjoy.