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Disabled Fat Nation

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Disabled Fat Nation

Disabled Fat Nation: Top tips for getting fit

by Ian Cook

10th September 2007

So what are other disabled people doing when it comes to taking exercise and keeping fit? We asked some of those at the cutting edge for their top tips.

Michael Watson

In 1991, Michael sustained severe brain damage after a middleweight title fight with Chris Eubank.

"My three top tips are as follows. Number one: always begin each morning with stretching exercises for at least 15 - 30mins. This helps to release muscles that may have tightened up when sleeping, and also slowly wakes the body. I also incorporate some shadow boxing to sharpen my reflexes.

Number two: Walk for at least 15 - 20mins every day. Slowly at first and gradually building up pace so your heart starts beating faster. This kind of aerobic exercise can be done by anyone, and you can build up into a power walking pace when you feel ready.

Number three: Another good exercise, for me at least, is using the bike in the gym. I try to do use this at least a couple of times a week as this also builds up my stamina and aerobically helps my heart and lungs."
Michael Watson

Susie Cornell

Susie is a natural healthcare consultant specialising in physical and nutritional health assessments for MSers. She's had MS for 30 years.

"When I was diagnosed, I found that the main thing that helped me keep my mobility was exercise. It soon became clear that there was a real demand among people with MS and other disabilities to know how they could exercise safely and effectively. But there was little help out there.

So I produced an exercise video for people with MS. Due to the success of this, I built a health & fitness club which caters for the general population, but also specialises in exercise programmes for people with other disabilities.

I was given the Fitness Industry's Association (FIA) highest honour - the 'Lifetime Achievers Award' for my contribution to integrating physical disability into the world of health and fitness.

My video is called Mission Ability. It caters for all types of people - from those who 'just don't like exercise' but want to be fit, to those with problems walking - perhaps due to a back problem or even MS. Another section of the video is for wheelchair users.

The exercises are adapted from the Peto Institute in Hungary, and are especially formulated for people with MS. I spent two months at this famous institute and it changed my life. Many of the exercises can be done from the comfort of your armchair; in fact, easy exercise is shown from sitting in a rocking chair. Exercise can be fitted into daily chores around the home and they can be fun! This video shows you how this can be done. It's great for those who can not get out of the house."
Susie Cornell

Graham Burns

Graham is a gym instructor at the Aspire gym in Stanmore, north London. He is a wheelchair user.

"Exercise is just as important for disabled people as for anyone else. It's essential to maintain good heart and lung health through aerobic exercise, as well as reducing the risk of osteoporosis through weight-bearing exercise. There are machines in some gyms where wheelchair users can exercise in an upright position. Obviously anyone with a health or mobility problems should always check with their GP before embarking on an exercise programme.

Swimming is fantastically healthy for people with a number of disabilities. It provides minimal stress on the joints, at the same time as building strong muscles and providing good aerobic exercise.

The Aspire Channel Swim is an event we run for disabled and able-bodied people every year. People swim the 22-mile distance of their local swimming pool over a 12-week period. It's already underway for this year - from 13 September to 5 December - but it's not too late to sign up."
Graham Burns

Marcus Asbury

Marcus is a Disability Sports Development Officer, and a wheelchair user.

"There are many exercises that can be undertaken whilst sitting, particularly by wheelchair users who can go for a brisk push close to home. To experience potential long-term benefits, the exercise should be at a level where the individual begins to feel both hot and sweaty, but is still able to hold a conversation. There are handcycles available which clip onto wheelchairs - however, these can be expensive.

Various mobility and stretching exercises are can also be done from either a wheelchair or a standard safe chair. The exercises can be prescribed in a fitness environment by a qualified instructor using appropriate dumb-bell weights. These exercises can be carried out either by sitting in a wheelchair or by transferring to an appropriate bench if the individual is able to do so. The range of exercises and movement can be discussed and agreed by the individual and qualified gym instructor."
Marcus Asbury

Steve Scott

Steve Scott is Chair of the Dwarf Athletics Association.

"I find swimming and cycling are better exercise than running, although I have run a marathon in the past! Swimming and cycling are good cardio-vascular exercise, less aggressive on my joints, and less damaging on hips and spine. Finding a bike to fit can be a problem - but necessity is the mother of invention, so they say.

Weight is an important issue for people with dysplasia, where limbs are bowed or curved and bones more dense. Putting weight on can put extra stress on joints. If I put on a pound it's proportionately a bigger problem than it is for someone of average size. So exercise which keeps my weight in check is good.

Finally, I think getting involved in sport is important. There are many times - from school onwards - when disabled people, and dwarves in particular, are left out. Keeping fit and playing sport enables us to participate. If you're fit, then you're more likely to do sport and participate in life."

• "Walk tall with short sport": Dwarf Athletic Association UK

Chris Holmes

Chris Holmes is a blind swimmer.

Chris says his three top tips are:

1. Focus clearly on what you want to get out of physical exercise.
2. Train with a group or a team of people; it makes it so much easier.
3. Most importantly - enjoy it! There's no point if it's not fun.
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