Breaking down barriers to participation – Fitness for all

By Ade Silva  – Activity Coordinator – Inspire

Noel finish lineThe importance of living a physically active life; participating in sports and social activities can never be stressed enough, more over in a country where the number of citizens suffering with obesity is increasing. Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity, five times a week, should be our ‘daily medicine’ for prevention against diseases or conditions which can impede us from having a fully functional life. One person out of seven among the working age population, reports a basic activity difficulty, i.e difficulty in lifting and carrying, walking, bending, sitting or standing, seeing, remembering or concentrating and hearing (Eurostat study 2012). Engaging in regular physical activity can surely improve this statistic on 6 out of 7 of these basic activities.

Even though Malta has been reported to have a particulary high proportion of the population with a low severity disability, i.e a disability in just one life area, the largest proportion of people with disabilities have reported barriers to participation such as imposed limitations to attend leisure activities and mobility difficulties related to getting out of their homes.

Benefits of sport and physical exercise are never ending. Here is a list of some common health conditions/ disabilities in Malta and the benefits of physical movement to aleviate them :

Fibromyalgia is a common chronic condition involving widespread pain, cognitive symptoms such as memory failure (both long-term and short-term) and difficulties with attention, sleep, fatigue, amongst other symptoms, bringing along a reduced quality of life. Even though many studies show that aerobic (such as walking) and strengthening exercises demonstrate to be effective, there is no one optimal training schedule which works best overall. Therefore, it is recommended to use varied exercises in the same session or in different sessions. Most importantly is to start from low-intensity and low resistance levels and increase slowly, approximately by 10% after 2 weeks of exercise (a graded exercise programme). The intensity and duration of exercise sessions should be reduced when post-exertion pain or fatigue is experienced. Use of pool may also be beneficial in reducing pain and depression, and also in improving the quality of sleep. Other exercise options with positive results include Tai Chi and Yoga.

Down syndrome is a condition wherein a person is born with a partial or full extra copy of the 21st chromosome. This extra genetic material then alters the normal course of development, causing various traits including, but not limited to low muscle tone. In this case physical exercise leads to improving muscular strength and balance.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a developmental disorder resulting in a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences

Studies show that vigorous or strenuous exercise is associated with decreases in stereotypic (self-stimulatory) behaviors, hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness. An example of a vigorous exercise means a 20-minute or longer aerobic workout, 3 to 4 days a week. Many autistic children gain weight if they have an inactive life-style, and weight gain brings another set of problems. Since stereotypic behaviors interfere with teaching, an exercise program might improve the student’s attention, also in a classroom setting.

 

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) can impact both children and adults, and some typical symptoms of ADHD include restlessness, lack of focus, and excessive fidgeting. Such behaviours can be especially problematic for chidlren in a classroom setting or for adults at their place of work. With daily physical activity, a youngster with ADHD may experience increased cognitive function and a better mastery of personal organization and self-control. Using exercise in conjunction with ADHD medications can be especially effective for some patients. Release of excess energy can happen during regular exercising, which in result can allow a person with ADHD to focus more on their daily tasks and getting along better with peers as well. Studies have suggested that children with ADHD who participate in morning exercise before spending time in the classroom may experience fewer problems with moodiness and inattention, together with higher self-esteem and greater self-confidence.

Muscular Dystrophy (MD) is an inherited genetic condition that gradually causes the muscles in the body to weaken. This condition gets worse over time but regular exercise, focusing primarily on gaining muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility (stretching) exercises to prevent freezing of the joints (contractures) can retain muscle strength whilst slowing down the progression of weakness and improve breathing. Aerobic exercises, such as walking, rowing, wheeling and arm ergometry should be prescribed 4-6 times a week for 20-40 minute sessions. Swimming can also be a healthy activity for persons with MD as it is a good way to work on muscle tone without causing any undue stress on them. The buoyancy of the water helps protect against certain kinds of muscle strain and injury.

A Stroke is when blood flow to an area of the brain is blocked. When this happens, the brain cells in the affected area are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control, are lost. Physical activity can be beneficial to stroke patients on multiple levels. Studies have demonstrated physiological, psychological, sensorial, strength, endurance and functional effects of various types of exercises, and decrease the risk of recurrent strokes. Three main rehabilitation goals for stroke patients are preventing complications of prolonged inactivity, decreasing recurrent stroke and cardiovascular events and increasing aerobic fitness and for best results, physical exercises should be started as soon as possible after the stroke attack. Use of treadmill and resistance-training programmes, together with flexibility exercises to increase range of motion, 2-3 times a week are common recommendations for an improved quality of life. As you can see, regardless of whether a person has a disability or not, regular exercise can be of huge benefit to everyone.

In a nutshell exercise can help by:

  • Improving stamina and muscle strength
  • Reducing the rate of obesity
  • Releasing endorphins that delivers a feel-good high. This can help ease anxiety and depression, and additionally, lift your mood.
  • Providing opportunities for socialization. Exercising in a group is a great way to try something different, meet new people and become part of the community.
  • Gaining the ability to maintain a higher level of independence, sense of freedom and quality of life.
  • Control joint swelling, and helping to alleviate pain in the process.

It is important that before anyone with a disability embarks on a physical activity or exercise programme, that they consult with their doctor.

Large LogoHOW CAN INSPIRE HELP YOU?

Inspire’s Fitness Centre has always been open to individuals of various abilities. In the past, free or discounted memberships were offered to people with a variety of disabilities. These were mainly funded through full fee paying members.  This year Inspire has received funding from the Malta Community Chest Fund to support this initiative, so membership fees paid by other individuals will continue to support a number of Inspire’s other programmes and disability services. With a fully accessible fitness centre and hydrotherapeutic pool available at Inspire, together with the possibility of receiving a free or discounted membership (depending on the type and severity of the disability), why not try to strike up a fitness regime that works best for you!

For more information contact Inspire on reception@inspire.org.mt or visit www.inspire.org.mt/fitnessforall

A PROJECT FUNDED BY MFCC AS PART OF MALTA’S COMMITMENT TOWARDS ADDRESSING THE UN2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT