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Removing Disability Disparities in Women's Health, 2005, 1:2

Physical Activity

Just the facts!

  • Women who have physical limitations or disabilities are much less likely to exercise regularly than other women.
  • Physical limitations may include difficulty with standing, walking, lifting, or housekeeping.
  • Some women with physical limitations believe they cannot and should not exercise, even though they may be physically able to do so.
  • Many women with physical limitations wish to become more physically active, but face barriers to becoming more active.
  • Common barriers include fatigue and pain; lack of time, money, assistance, and transportation; and inaccessibility of fitness centers and equipment.
  • Women with physical limitations are often unable to obtain information on how to exercise safely.
  • Most health professionals do not receive training in advising women with physical limitations on how to exercise safely.

Why exercise? Benefits can include:

  • Less pain
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Weight management and weight loss
  • Reduced stress and depression
  • Better digestion
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better management of diabetes
  • Healthier muscles, bones, and joints

"Everyone has different abilities and limitations - the challenge is to find out what you can do!"

Tips from women with physical limitations:

  • Whatever activity increases your breathing and heart rate, gradually do more of it. Lots of room for creativity here!
  • Break your daily exercise into several small blocks. Propelling your wheelchair for 10 minutes around the neighborhood a couple times a day can really boost your energy.
  • Look for accessible parks, pools, paths, and other public facilities in your area and use them as much as you can.
  • Be flexible and plan how you will handle obstacles to your exercise plan, such as rain, transportation difficulties, doctor appointments, or feeling too tired.
  • Don't attempt activities that cause you pain, numbness, dizziness, spasticity, or severe fatigue. It's not worth the risk of injury. Be cautious until you know your limits.
  • Once you know your limits, respect them. Doing too much can make things worse.
  • Check with your doctor or health care provider before starting an exercise program.
  • Ask a physical therapist or fitness instructor to help you identify exercises that will be safe.
  • Find ways (besides food) to reward yourself for exercising.
  • Set a weekly exercise goal for yourself. Be specific about what you will do, and when you plan to do it each week - but be realistic!
  • Find an exercise buddy. It makes it more fun and helps you to keep up your motivation.

"I'm glad someone reminded me to make realistic exercise goals for myself and to start slowly, or I might have become discouraged or even injured myself."

Exercise Possibilities:

  • Walking or propelling your wheelchair, especially on rough terrain
  • Using a hand-cycle at a gym
  • Yoga or Tai Chi
  • Using wraparound weights
  • Exercising or walking in water
  • Seated exercises (or aerobics!)
  • Brisk housecleaning
  • Playing with children
  • Bouncing or throwing a ball
  • Rowing a canoe or kayak
  • Gardening or raking leaves
  • Strengthening exercises with rubber tubing or bands

"I have a spinal cord injury, and I enjoy going to free water exercise classes with other women who have disabilities at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center. I love it!"

For more information:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Houston Endowment, Inc.

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