Today, I am happy to bring you a guest article from Deborah Jaffe. While working with special needs children for many years, in both public and private schools, she became inspired by their strength and determination in facing their challenges. Out of that inspiration, she created a Facebook support group dedicated to special needs children and people with disabilities, called “Friends of Children with Special Needs” which is currently at 3,000+ members. She continues to manage the group, which exists to help the special needs community. It does so by sharing useful information and resources, offering support, inspiration, and guidance, connecting people for assistance and advice, creating awareness, and promoting inclusion and acceptance. One of the group’s goals is to bring together like-minded people, and create a sense of community among its members.
Everybody needs physical activity for good health. However, statistics show that nearly half of adults with disabilities who are able to be physically active don’t get any aerobic physical activity. Exercise and physical fitness are usually one of the last things on the minds of caregivers and those for whom they care.
According to the CDC, people with disabilities are less likely to engage in regular moderate physical activity than people without disabilities, despite having similar needs to promote their health and prevent unnecessary disease. There are also an estimated 16.8 million caregivers caring for special needs children under 18 years old, with 55% of these caregivers caring for their own children. Statistics show that 23% of family caregivers caring for loved ones for 5 years or more report their health is fair or poor (Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP November 2009). 58% of family caregivers indicate worse exercise habits than before assuming their caregiving responsibilities (Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One. National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006).
Exercise and physical activity can greatly improve the overall health and well-being of both caregivers, and those receiving care. Through her work, Paralympian Sophie Warner advocates for the benefits of sports and exercise for people with disabilities. She says regular running and exercise helps keep her cerebral palsy symptoms at bay, including tight muscles, fatigue and balance issues. With the reduction of some of the symptoms of her disability, she also has experienced a boost in her happiness levels.
Exercise and physical activity can promote better sleep, reduce stress, tension, and depression, improve mood, and increase energy and alertness. It also can restore endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility. According to the CDC, some benefits of physical activity includes:
- Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.
- Can help people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength.
- Releases chemicals called endorphins, which reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves mood, and promotes general feelings of well-being.
- Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.
- Can help reduce blood pressure in some people with hypertension.
Exercise can be fun, especially if you involve your family in the activity. Whether it is going for a walk after dinner, or playing a fun game, there are countless opportunities within the day for individuals to be physically active.
Try these easy fitness activities:
1. Stroll/walk outside. Even if the individual being cared for has limited mobility, it is always beneficial to get some fresh air and sun.
2. Playing catch. This can be done with a ball or even a pillow.
3. Doing household chores. Since they will already need to be done, everyone can participate by doing something at an appropriate physical level.
4. Stretching. Being on your feet or in one position all day can wear down the body, so it’s good to just stretch the muscles out.
5. Dancing. Dancing is a great cardiovascular workout, and it can be done at any skill or mobility level.
It is always advisable to ease into an exercise routine, whatever the fitness level, prior experience, or age. It is recommended that a healthcare provider be consulted before starting any fitness activities. They can assess the current physical conditions, and ensure that an exercise program is safely incorporated and the best one for the individual.
About Fitness for Health:
To learn how Fitness for Health can help you increase your mind-body connection, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org or call 301-231-7138.