Warning! Exercise May Be
Hazardous Essential to Your Health!
By: Dot Nary
|Dorothy E. Nary, M.A., NIH Doctoral Trainee, The University of Kansas Gerontology Center|
SEE YOUR PHYSICIAN
Before beginning any exercise program or changing your physical activity patterns, you should always consult with your doctor or physician, particularly if you have been inactive, are very overweight, or have or suspect any sort of medical condition that might be worsened by exercise.
Intrigued, I began to think:
Am I more at risk for injury than a person without a disability? What might the average physician say if a person with a disability asks about exercise? Should people with disabilities really postpone exercising until they consult their physicians? Does our medical system accommodate this type of request? Is exercise a threat to my health? My mobility? And then, Darn, this is hard, time-consuming and inconvenient—and now, it appears, dangerous! Maybe I should head home, snuggle in with a bag of chips, and switch the TV on.
Whoa, I thought, I'm going too far! I know that exercise is good for me! I've worked hard to overcome many barriers to pursue it and I should keep it up!
But, my curiosity aroused, I took a quick survey of the other fitness equipment in the room—the stair stepper, the elliptical machine, the treadmill, the stationery cycle, the weight machine. Although there were cautions about using the equipment properly, there were no warnings on the equipment for ambulatory people about the dangers of exercise. None of them had a screaming, red printed warning that the user might be doing him or herself harm by walking, stepping, pushing, pulling, lifting or cycling!
I understood that the printed warning on the accessible fitness equipment that I use represents a liability precaution, instigated by a legal department representative seeking to protect a corporation from potential lawsuits in our litigious society. But I became frustrated as I thought about all of the other environmental messages that can dissuade a person with a disability from exercising, including the:
- lack of recommendations from health care providers
- dearth of accessible facilities,
- absence of images of people with disabilities in fitness-related advertising
- exorbitant expenses of many types of accessible equipment
And I thought about the ambulatory people with hidden, yet serious, medical conditions who can hop onto a stationary cycle without being subjected to a warning that they, too, might constitute a corporate liability, simply because their condition does not prevent them from accessing standard equipment.
What can be done about it? Well, it's up to all of us who know that physical activity is important to everyone, who understand that people with disabilities can be healthy, and who believe that we can create an environment where health is promoted for everyone to contribute to change.
Here are some suggestions of how each of us can serve as a catalyst in our own communities:
- Be an example—whether you have a disability or not, be a healthy role model.
- Encourage others to adopt healthy habits by inviting them to join you for a walk, a swim, or a trip to the gym.
- Ask questions—when you visit a gym or recreational site assess the level of inclusion and accessibility. Speak with the management about how they accommodate people with different needs.
- Use your influence—if you serve on boards or committees related to health and fitness, raise issues of inclusion and access. Be an advocate!
I look forward to a time when access to fitness activities is such a priority that no one would consider warning about the dangers of using a piece of exercise equipment. But in the meantime, we have lots of work to do. We owe it to future generations of people with disabilities to create communities where fitness activity is regarded as essential to quality of life, not as an activity to be warned against. We must truly believe and continue to articulate that "Everyone can be healthy!"