Buff that Bod!

Couch potato or health nut, we hope you’ll find something in this product review to suit your body strength and energy level

Many of us put exercise off as something to do “tomorrow”, or think that exercise = pain, or just think that “I’m disabled – this is as good as it gets”. Unfortunately low levels of exercise increase your chances of further illness and disability. Exercise is a great way to gain more strength and energy, clear the mind, and fight depression and anxiety. Regular exercise will boost your ability to cope with life in general.

How much exercise? The USA guidelines for adults with disabilities are: “75 minutes/week of vigorous activity or 150 min/week moderate activity”. In rural South Africa that may be the same as the effort required to go to school or get to the clinic! It’s more important just to start and it doesn’t have to be a long slog at the gym: the Canadian Air Force Exercises work on a 10 to12 minute daily routine! Note: these would have to be adapted for some disabilities.

Choose an exercise type and time that suits you. Ideally you should try a mix of exercises that:

  • stretch the movement of your joints
  • increase your muscle tone (appearance of the muscle) and strength
  • increase your heart rate and breathing – aerobic exercise.

Exercises that are good for improving joint range and “toning” the body are passive movements, yoga and Pilates. For muscle strength, try active movements “against gravity” with or without adding weights; also increase the amount of time you spend exercising. Aerobic exercise includes: walking, swimming, running, pushing the wheelchair, and, for the more adept: hand cycles, surfboarding, wheelchair dancing, and tennis.

Variety is the spice of life! If you are not confident about getting started by yourself, book an appointment to ask a physiotherapist or biokineticist for some exercise ideas.

Home Gym
Not confident about going to gym? Find the travel and access a problem? Then try exercising at home. It does not have to cost lots of money: use things around the house. Hand strengthening can start with squeezing a tennis ball or stretching large office elastic bands and move onto “hard work” activities of daily living such as making pap, or pastry, or hand-washing clothes. Developing upper limb strength can be as simple as hanging out wet washing or lifting 5L water bottles instead of buying dumbbells (a litre of water is 1kg, so if you can’t manage full bottle start with 0.5 litre and work up).

What equipment should I use? Many sports shops have equipment you can use; it doesn’t have to have a “therapy” label. Elastic or Latex bands (Therabands) are good for stretching and building up strength. They are colour-coded for the strength needed. If you can’t wrap them around your hands, look for those with handles. Tubing is similar and can be just hand-held or attached to a door or wall to provide a range of exercises. They range from the small TUBES system to the meaty Cactic system.

What people say about using ergometers – from Mobility Solutions Facebook
I tried the passive leg cycle, this was great as I often suffer cramps in my left calf. It started off slow and my calf started asking questions as it had not had such a good sensation for 17 years, it was working for a change and my cramps and stiffness were easing with every revolution, aaagh too good to be true you think, I say you have to try this today!!! Today the next morning my calf is not cramped and stiff, my legs feel great and my spasms are less, and that’s just one session. I have put my order in and eagerly await delivery and a more flexible body.

Update – Legs passive…The use of my legs passive has greatly increased my blood flow to my legs thus helping drainage of excess water. It also has improved my knee and ankle movement from stiff to supple and has reduced my spasms. I generally use for 15 minutes every morning. It also works my hips so they also more flexible (Shane).

My Passive exerciser has already changed my life for the better! It makes me feel so “free” and has loosened up my legs a great deal. Additionally I no longer get stabbing pins and needles in my legs at night due to lack of movement. This exerciser is a life-changer as I am also now able to transfer much more easily (Tanya)

If you are a fitness fundi, be inspired by these websites:
Enabled Sport: www.enabledsport.co.za or www.facebook.com/enabled
SA Sports for the Disabled: www.sasapd.org.za or https://www.facebook.com/SouthAfricanSportsAssociationForPhysicallyDisabled
Disability Sports SA: www.dissa.co.za

The TUBES system is endorsed by QASA (and if you mention them in your order they get a R20.00 donation from TUBES). This simple system of a rubber tube and door, wall and rail “anchors” provides a wide range of exercise options, including programmes for people with specific chronic illness or a wheelchair. You can attach the tube to a glove grip brace if you have poor hand function.

Not into Gym? Try yoga for back and joint pain, stretching and general “toning”. Start with a Hatha Yoga class, as this is a “gentle” exercise. It’s best if the teacher does have some experience in disability so they can adapt the session for you

Range of movement (ROM): each joint should go through its full stretch; it does not matter if it is “active” or “passive”. ROM exercises help reduce pain and stiffness.

Passive movements: someone or a machine moves your limbs for you. You can do some passive movements yourself e.g. the “good hand” can move the “bad hand”.

Active movements: when you move yourself. Good for joint range & muscle strength.

Against gravity: work the opposite direction to gravity, so raising your arms or legs in the air is “against gravity”.

What should you know about starting Gym?
Treadmills: Poor balance or endurance? Work on your balance while standing on the floor before trying this machine. Work with someone by your side or a treadmill with long side bars to hold on to. Start by walking without the machine switched on then switch to the lowest speed. Rehab machines speeds can be as low as 0.1km/hr

Weights: Sit and start with small dumbbells or cuffs and move your limbs slowly up and down. Build up the number of movements rather than the size of the weight.

Exercise machines (and home gyms): may have narrow, smooth, movable seats so you need good balance just to sit on them.

Fixed bicycles: the very small seats mean you need good trunk control. Good for people with low endurance or joint problems. The electric ones are helpful for people with paraplegia or cerebral palsy.


Stephanie Homer (B.Sc. OT) has worked on an innovative midlevel rehabilitation worker project and education programmes that strengthen community-based rehabilitation skills, in both students and rural therapists. email: homer@dullstroom.net

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