Government Should Consider Subsidizing Fitness Memberships for People with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Well, here is what I'm thinking: Many people with disabilities seldom use recreational and fitness facilities, and most individuals, particularly those with severe disabilities, have limited options for home exercise. If a person with a disability is not working and has few outlets for participating in physical activity (i.e., no exercise equipment, unable to walk for exercise), his or her risk for acquiring various health conditions such as excess body weight, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, pressure ulcers, heart disease, depression, and so on, increases dramatically.
Instead of the government spending more money on treating the medical complication after it occurs, it should consider funding programs that prevent the problem in the first place. For example, one of the most effective ways to avoid pressure ulcers is to relieve pressure over the oxygen-deprived tissue as often as possible during the day. If a person had an opportunity to go to a gym and spend a couple of hours a day out of his or her wheelchair engaging in a warm-water exercise class, performing various stretches on a mat, and participating in a group exercise class in a standing board, the time out of the wheelchair would be immensely valuable in terms of relieving pressure and would likely decrease the risk of developing a pressure sore. Additional benefits would include reduced body weight, blood glucose, blood pressure, and social isolation, to name just a few.
While our health care system has devoted much of its resources (i.e., time, money and energy) to treating disease (i.e., diabetes, lung cancer, severe obesity, heart disease, depression), isn't it time to take an infinitesimally tiny fraction of our gargantuan health care budget and offer people with disabilities the opportunity to take control of their own health by subsidizing memberships to their local fitness facilities (cost of a membership and transportation are the two primary barriers to participating in exercise programs)? Fitness centers are literally sprouting up all over the place. Virtually every town, small and large, has a YMCA.
So here is what I'm thinking: A fitness membership usually runs around $300 to $500 a year. Treatment for one pressure ulcer can cost up to $50,000. Do the math: If you prevent one pressure ulcer by subsidizing a fitness membership, it would take 166 years to break even! And that $300 to $500 membership comes with a variety of benefits, including warm-water exercise classes (at many facilities), wheeling around a track, lifting weights, listening to a nutrition seminar, and meeting new acquaintances. I can't think of a better way to spend our taxpayer dollars than to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to become members of their local health clubs. Isn't that what life is all about -- feeling as if you are part of a community and having a place to go to improve your own health? Instead of handing someone another drug prescription, let's try something new and refreshin. Hand them an exercise prescription that they themselves can create in their local gym. Rather than dumping the fish in their lap, supply them with the fishing pole and teach them how to fish (this is what NCHPAD is all about!). There is no better way to increase a person?s self-confidence than by giving him or her the tools of empowerment.
It is time for our government to develop a health care system that includes fitness memberships for people with disabilities and that replaces the anachronistic disease-care system that has choked our country for the past quarter-century. People with disabilities can teach themselves how to exercise if given the resources to do so. Even with additional funds for transportation, the costs will far outweigh treatment for various secondary conditions resulting from inactivity and a life of extreme social isolation. Here's a slogan that we can adopt:
Give us a fitness membership and we'll do the rest! We're tired of being transported to hospitals and clinics to receive more medication and get more diagnostic testing; what we've wanted all along is a place to go where we can improve our own health and become part of our own community.