The Importance of Fitness for People with Disabilities
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
On this chilly Saturday morning, a gusty wind pushed against the back of her walker and added just enough resistance to prevent her from overcoming the small unlevel surface between concrete slabs. As I prepared to go downstairs to lend her a hand, she gave one final push and successfully broke the plane freeing her walker and allowing her to continue her journey home. It was a momentous occasion and while we were unable to see her facial expression, her mannerisms expressed success.
Many people with and without disabilities often fail to realize the importance of being physically fit for events such as the one my mother and I witnessed. Most of the time we don't have to extend ourselves beyond the minimum levels of strength and balance necessary for performing routine activities of daily living. But there are certain times when greater levels of strength and cardiorespiratory fitness are needed to overcome uncharacteristic events in the indoor or outdoor environment - maneuvering over an uneven sidewalk or up a steep ramp, increasing pace in order to reach an approaching bus, getting back up after a fall, maintaining balance against high winds, getting out of a car, standing in line an extra 5 minutes, dealing with high temperatures and humidity, transferring to a slightly higher surface, carrying a heavier bag, and so on. The 10- to 15-mile-per-hour wind that morning was just enough to prevent the woman from getting across the uneven sidewalk surface. Her levels of strength and balance were probably right at the threshold necessary for completing the task when there was no wind; but on this occasion, the wind created just enough resistance to keep her battling for a good 5 minutes, bringing her close to exhaustion.
After the event I wondered: How much easier would it have been to overcome that obstacle had she been involved in a physical fitness program that increased her levels of strength, power, balance, and endurance well beyond their current levels? I'm almost certain that she would have cut through that barrier like a hot knife through butter. It would have been no obstacle at all.
Physical fitness is an important element of health for everyone, but it is particularly important for people with disabilities who encounter these kinds of obstacles on a daily basis. I often dream of the day when personal trainers recognize the importance of their careers through the eyes of people with disabilities. That is where their efforts should lie and that is where their credibility and identity will be established in the future.