Questions that Need to be Addressed
People with disabilities have many questions about strategies pertaining to weight control, diet, fitness and exercise. Some of these key questions include:
- Where do people with disabilities go for fitness information that has a disability filter? How should we exercise? How much?
- What is the effect of exercise on preventing increasing disability for specific types of disability groups?
- How important is conditioning, flexibility and endurance for people with disabilities? Is it more important that conditioning and flexibility be maintained because many people with disabilities work harder to physically function?
- Does active and consistent participation in various physical activities (i.e., sports, fitness) for people with disabilities accelerate musculoskeletal injury or pain or does it slow or prevent pain or injury?"
- How do people with disabilities maintain cardiopulmonary conditioning, physical strength, bone density, coordination, and joint mobility?
- Should aerobic conditioning come before specific muscle strengthening or the reverse?
- What type of strengthening program is best for people with significant spasticity?
- Where do people with disabilities find affordable personal trainers with disability expertise?
- What exercise books should people with disabilities read?
- What exercise videos should people with disabilities use?
- Which strengthening and aerobic equipment should people with disabilities use?
- Is a weight-lifting program going to strengthen muscles or will it cause or exacerbate pain and stiffness and lead to arthritis?
- Will osteoporosis become a major problem for people with mobility disabilities? Should screening be conducted earlier for people with disabilities than for people without disabilities? What interventions are effective? When should they be started?
- Since living with disability often means continual body strain and stress, should specialized diets be tailored to people with specific types of disabilities? For example, do wheelchair users need a greater intake of calcium than the recommended daily allowance to prevent bone loss? Are peak performance diets more relevant for people with disabilities?
- What are the implications for people with disabilities, of the fact that people without disabilities who have been athletic all their lives, and who have continued to eat and exercise properly, seem to age less rapidly and are healthier than their non-athletic counterparts?
When health care providers take the time to explore and understand negative misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding disability, many will be discarded. Providers who invest time in understanding issues related the health, wellness, and health care needs of people with disabilities can be strong supporters and advocates. Providers need to encourage people with disabilities to be healthy and active, as well as assertive participants and co-managers of their health and health care.
Unfortunately health promotion and preventative health care has received little attention, in part due to the strong perception that health and disability are mutually exclusive. As a friend, Kathleen Lankasky put it, "The lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of health care professionals concerning my disability and how it is affecting me as I age is extremely frightening to me....We are tired of reacting to pain and stiffness rather than preventing them."
The inability of people with disabilities to get helpful information regarding what types of exercises is best suited to their specific limitations is exasperating. This information gap is extremely troubling given the vast amount of existing evidence that indicates that many physical difficulties which accompany aging in people without disabilities can be prevented or lessened by exercise. Although good health habits, including exercise, do not guarantee a long life, they do greatly increase chances for a good quality of life.