One of the most challenging aspects of a physical fitness program for persons with developmental disabilities is improving cardiovascular fitness. As Dr. Rimmer points out, the achievement of aerobic fitness is associated with moderate to vigorous exercise. This can be a difficult level of exertion to attain for people with a head injury, because of their sedentary history. Finding an activity that holds the interest of the participant is helpful in maintaining a consistent program.
Typically, individuals with a head injury lead a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, precautions must be taken when developing the aerobic program. For some clients, something as simple as walking down a 30-foot corridor may be taxing. Before starting your program, consult with primary care physicians and physical therapists to identify the abilities and fitness levels of each participant.
There are a number of different ways to improve cardiovascular fitness levels. These include:
- Treadmill walking
- Jumping rope
- Aerobic classes
From the perspective of an individual with a brain injury, unless limited by physical disability, the easiest way to achieve aerobic fitness is walking. It is efficient, relatively safe, and progress can be measured easily. Start slowly and gradually increase your distance. As in all other aspects of your program, make this as enjoyable as possible. Go to areas of interest such as parks and beaches during good weather and malls or inside facilities during inclement weather.
Bicycling is another great exercise for improving aerobic fitness. Because some individuals suffer from balance and coordination problems, the use of a regular bicycle and stationary bikes may not be practical. The best machine for this purpose would be the stationary recumbent bike, which provides chair-like support for the back in a low, seated position. This is also a good choice for individuals with lower back problems.
Treadmills can be risky. They provide a great cardiovascular workout, especially in bad weather conditions. Be aware of your client's balance, concentration, and attention at all times. Even for the client who does have favorable balance, you must closely monitor the activity. Distractions may cause your client to lose focus from the task at hand. Safety is always the key issue.
Dancing is another great activity and one that most people enjoy. Let your participants choose the music they enjoy and have some fun. Dancing may also be used as a group activity.
As with all other activities, choose safe and effective exercises. Any increase of current activity levels will promote an increase in fitness levels and therefore will be effective.