The substantial research behind the benefits of exercise for general health and wellbeing in healthy populations right through to quality of life in end stage clinical populations has been well established. Guidelines have been set for many populations and people with a disability are no exception. Unfortunately, a significant majority are insufficiently active when it comes to meeting recommended physical activity levels, putting them at risk of developing a multitude of chronic disease conditions. Guidelines will vary dependent on the condition and individual needs, however for the majority, exercise should be a part of a weekly routine. As part of an Exercise Physiologist’s (EP) role, we often attempt to enhance weekly physical activity with incidental exercise (exercise that is part of everyday living). Some classic examples include taking the stairs over the lift or parking further away from the shops. However, parking further away from the shops to encourage walking is a particularly easy alternative to palm off as general advice but how is this possible when disability parking spots are often the closest to the entrance? This brings a particular challenge to promoting incidental exercise for people with disabilities. A pragmatic approach is required when developing exercise programs for people with disabilities. As a long-term goal for the individual, independent exercise regimes are highly desired. Here are several key points for developing self-managed physical activity routines in people with disabilities.
- Successful long-term behavioural change is made achievable through enjoyable activities performed by the individual. In some cases, the program’s desired outcomes may be sacrificed so the individual may continue to enjoy the activity.
- Tied into the above point is the root of the motivation for exercise. The client needs to feel like the exercise(s) are of benefit to improving their current position.
- Understanding and identifying where a patient fits on the spectrum of behaviour change can be a useful tool for successful lifestyle adaptation. For example, educating a sedentary patient on the benefits of physical activity for their health and wellbeing may encourage commitment to exercise. However, education for someone already exercising has been shown to have little effect on solidifying habits for the long term.
- Modelling of Success can be done by introducing a role model to the client. The ‘model’ is an individual which you believe has the traits to inspire your client and promote ‘success’ in them. To be most effective, introduce your client to a role model with the same level of abilities.
- Having a solid support network including doctors and other allied health is key in creating successful behavioural change. Medical support is one of the most influential factors in motivating physical activity for people with a disability.