For the disabled population, what are the daily challenges on a physical, mental, and spiritual level? Most of us will never know, but they are great. A better question might be: What are their abilities? Most often in mainstream society, living with disability is portrayed as tragic or heroic. Neither of these is necessarily flattering, nor allow for the disabled to enjoy the same simple pleasures as everyone else, wherever and whenever they want. One such basic fundamental right is exercise. Another is assembling with people just like them for collective meditation, artistic expression, or bonding in some other soulful group activity. If the “average” person needs to get away once or twice a year, to change scenery and escape their normal routine, what makes us think those with physical, sensory, learning, mental, or intellectual challenges do not?
Although it is still debatable in mainstream science, there is a definite connection between the soul and physical well-being. While no amount of yoga or meditation will likely heal the inability to use one’s limbs or a permanent cognitive impairment, the serenity these activities provide certainly make everyday living more pleasant, and can perhaps even lessen the pain. No one can debate that the release of the right chemicals in the brain from physical (and even competitive) activity not only feels good, it also supports healthier living… regardless of level of ability.
Without taking the time to reflect on it, most people might dismiss the idea of the disabled needing to exert themselves physically. Indeed, not only is it not “mainstream”, it is systematically discouraged by the rest of society. Most gyms and other public facilities are not adapted to the needs of the disabled, and they are not afforded nearly the same opportunities for daily exercise as everyone else. This is truly tragic. Often times, the only solution is a retreat.
Everyone needs regular exercise and most adults should be getting a minimum 2 to 2.5 hours a week of competitive or recreational activity (at medium intensity). For decades, studies have shown that physical exertion –in all segments of the population– inhibits weight gain and reduces risks associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases, including cancer. Common psychological benefits include improvement in mood, reduction in anxiety and depression, and an increase in self-esteem. For those who are dependent on others for daily function, it also improves their strength, confidence, and potentially even their level of independence.
Despite all this, almost 50% of North American adults with disabilities get hardly any exercise, or recreation at all. If they are capable of exercising, they should; in their preferred way and at their own pace. If they are not able to perform traditional exercise or sport, they should be encouraged to engage in some form of regular movement or exertion, according to their capabilities. Some activity is better than none!
Remember… regardless of level of ability, physical activity promotes improved health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.
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