Fitness for wheelchair users

happy handicapped man on a...

Physical exercise comes with a great many health benefits, no matter what your age or fitness level, but getting active as a wheelchair user can present more of a challenge. That shouldn't put you off, however, as both aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise offer advantages long term. If you're a wheelchair user and unsure how or where to start getting fit, here are some tips to get you started.

Why get active?
Exercise helps to keep the heart, lungs and muscles in good shape, whether you're able-bodied or a wheelchair user. Cardiovascular activities will not only improve heart and lung health, but will also help to maintain a healthy weight, while strengthening the muscles can help to reduce the risk of strains or injuries associated with using a wheelchair.

How much should you aim for?
Government guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week, combined with muscle strengthening on two or more days. There are no specific guidelines for wheelchair users, and while some will be unable to reach that level, there are many that do. It's important to start slowly though, and even small steps towards a more active life can make a big difference. So don't push yourself too hard - even starting with 10 minutes each time and building up from there will mean you feel the benefits.

What's on offer?
As Paralympians prove time and time again, a wheelchair doesn't have to be a barrier when it comes to sport, and there are many options available for both cardio and resistance exercise. Aerobic activities including wheelchair sprinting (indoor or outdoor) team sports such as basketball, and you can also try swimming, tennis or badminton. Strength training is also important, and there's plenty you can do at home and without expensive specialist equipment. Resistance bands can help to strengthen the chest, back and shoulder muscles, free weights will help to build up the arms, and even throwing a ball back and forth can help by strengthening the core muscles.

Find out more
If you're unsure where to start, is a great resource that allows you to enter your own personal information to help you find a sport that suits. Thereafter, it's worth checking with your local sports centre to see what is on offer in your area. By law, they are required to provide access to wheelchair users, and many offer specialist sessions or sports so give them a call. Meanwhile the English Federation of Disability Sport is designed to help disabled people throughout England to improve their fitness and get active, and provides information about opportunities and sporting events in your local area, and its Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI), established for over ten years, has now reached 400 IFI accredited gyms, so check it out to find a suitable facility near you.

By getting involved and getting active, your physical fitness and mental wellbeing will improve, and many sports offer the added benefit of the social aspect, so don't be afraid to take advantage of the growing resources on offer.

Are you a wheelchair user who has benefitted from getting fitter? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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