“If exercise could be purchased in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” – Robert H. Butler
May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and a great time to commit to an exercise plan and explore new ways to get moving. You may think that with visual impairment this isn’t possible anymore, but there are powerful health benefits to physical activity and no matter our age, size, and physical condition, we need it. Exercise and healthy eating are the most effective means of protecting your body against chronic diseases, building a strong body, and ensuring a long active life.
As a nurse, I know the benefits of exercise and have seen the results when people do not live an active lifestyle. So I am trying to be intentional about getting exercise and staying fit. It has to be a lifestyle! But like most people, I want “fitness” to come easily and I struggle to stay physically active. I have discovered enjoyable ways to keep moving and continue to look for new fresh ideas to motivate me. As I age with vision loss, I realize how important it is to keep my body healthy and moving so I will be able to participate in life fully as a senior.
A Public Health Problem
Exercise is Medicine® is a global health initiative managed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) which is committed to the belief that physical activity is integral in the prevention and treatments of diseases and states:
“Physical inactivity is a fast-growing public health problem and contributes to a variety of chronic diseases and health complications including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, depression and anxiety, arthritis, and osteoporosis. In addition to improving a patient’s overall health, increasing physical activity has proven effective in the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases. Even with all the benefits of physical activity, in the United States and many other countries, levels of inactivity are alarming. We are facing what is now referred to as an ‘inactivity epidemic,’ with tremendous costs.”
EIM encourages doctors and patients to include a conversation about physical activity at each visit to evaluate the current level and discuss how to improve the exercise regimen. It is important to get a physical clearance from your doctor before you begin any new exercise program. And it may even be prudent for you and your doctor to talk about referrals to physical therapists, occupational therapists, or other allied fitness professionals to customize a plan that is right for you if you have other health conditions that impact your ability to do physical activity, including vision loss. Many insurance plans will cover these specialized therapies which can help protect against injuries, falls and chronic diseases. If you are visually impaired and concerned about falling, ask your doctor for a referral to physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT) to learn ways to reduce the risks. You may also want to check out VisionAware’s video series on fall prevention.
Let’s Make it Personal
Many people who are visually impaired experience barriers to regular exercise. They may include:
- altered balance and fear of falling
- transportation problems
- financial issues
- trouble learning physical activities
- lack of support from family
- current level of health
- lack of motivation, energy, time
But there are work-arounds and ways to build more physical activity into your life. You just need to muster up the motivation and get moving. Exercise does not have to always be muscle tearing and bone crushing to be beneficial. In fact, it can simply be fun and expressive body movement such as dancing to your favorite music. Physical activity can be paired with socializing by walking with a friend or attending a class at the gym. It can be solitary and meditative such as learning yoga in your living room. Whatever your preferences and abilities keep in mind that a variety of activities is needed to accomplish the following goals: strengthen muscles, increase endurance and stamina, improve flexibility and balance, tone the body and manage weight.
Start by setting your personal goals. Use a small step approach and make goals measureable and attainable. Ask yourself “What do I like to do? What can I afford as an investment into my health? How many days can I do this activity? What keeps me from exercising now? How can I overcome these barriers? A good starting goal is 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week. Set yourself up for success.
Explore your options, interests, abilities, and resources. Is there a gym you can get to? Do you like taking classes? Do you like to swim? Is there a walking track near your home? Can you buy a piece of equipment to exercise at home? Who do I know who may want to exercise with me? Choose your activities and set a schedule.
Staying Motivated–Tips to Motivate You
Here are some tips to keep your motivation up and steadily improve your physical condition:
- Change up the routines and try new activities to avoid getting burned out.
- Ask a friend to partner with you as a guide and motivator.
- Think of physical activity as a lifestyle. Remind yourself of all the positive benefits to your body: strength, stamina, balance, flexibility, posture, protection from chronic diseases, and help with joint and back pain.
- Reward yourself when you complete goals. Purchase a new piece of exercise equipment, clothing or the proper shoes needed to do an activity. Buy new music to freshen up your dance time. Or maybe a movie night or a healthy snack will do the trick. Treat yourself for your hard work and consistency.
- Keep an activity log and monitor your progress. Has your stamina, endurance, body weight, or BMI changed? Do your clothes fit better?
- Increase your activity and intensity as you improve. Add time and repetitions, increase the number of days you work out and pour on the effort as you exercise. Make it count!
- Spend time outdoors and get out in the sunshine to absorb the vitamin D producing rays that protect bone health and raise your spirits.
- Take time to notice all the ways regular exercise makes you feel better. Daily physical activity is known to improve sleep, regulate mood, and improve mental health.
- Enjoy your body in motion! There are social, spiritual, cognitive, creative, and recreational benefits to physical activity, all good for the mind, body and soul.
The options for moving your body in safe and healthy ways are endless. Stay tuned for Part 2: “Ways to Work Out and Exercise for the Visually Impaired.” The peer advisors at VisionAware share their ideas, tips and strategies on getting more physical activity.