Whether you’re the caregiver for a loved one who has a mobility issue due to a stroke, or because of SCI (spinal cord injury), arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, or something else, or if you yourself have a mobility issue, the fact is, you still need to keep your weight at a healthy standard. Just as it is for everyone, the best way to manage weight, regardless of physical limitations or barriers, is with a combination of diet and exercise. Weight management becomes even more important when there’s some sort of mobility issue, because the extra weight for a person with mobility challenges is likely to be even more dangerous and detrimental to their overall health and well-being. A survey of 145,000 people with varying forms of mobility challenges was conducted by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and it concluded that “disabling conditions are linked with an increased risk of obesity.” In fact, about 25% of those individuals who do have problems with mobility were found to be obese, while only 15% of those who do not have a mobility problem were struggling with obesity as an issue. The highest risk of obesity was found among those with lower limb mobility problems, like difficulty in walking and climbing stairs. Most of those in this survey group had received little, if any, advice on exercising from their physicians. This becomes a real concern, since exercise is vital for consistent and proper weight control. Another survey showed that people with mobility problems were as likely to want to try and lose weight as anyone else, so it’s important that doctors encourage and inform them of the kind of exercise that’s appropriate for their particular situation.
Some caregivers may be quite challenged when it comes to helping their loved one decide upon what type of exercise regimen to participate in and benefit from safely. It can be as simple as asking a loved one what they would like to be involved with and what they are interested in doing. There are physical activities and sports that anyone with mobility issues can become a part of and enjoy, like adaptive aerobics, aquatic exercise (gives support to the entire body and is gentle on the joints), floor yoga, wheelchair workouts, and sports like basketball, baseball, skiing, and more. When your loved one becomes committed to exercise, along with eating a sensible diet, they’ll be playing a major role in helping to prevent chronic illness, further disability and premature death. Some of the benefits of increased activity are: increased efficiency of heart and lungs; reduced cholesterol levels; increased muscle strength; reduced blood pressure; reduced risk of major illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease; weight loss; more energy; less stress; improved quality of sleep; improved ability to cope with stress; increased mental acuity; toned muscles; improved posture; improved self-image; increased opportunities to make new friends; increased opportunities to share an activity with friends or family members; increased productivity; increased physical capabilities; less frequent injuries; and improved immunity to minor illnesses.
When working along with your loved one and the exercise program they have chosen, you can help them remain consistent with their goal by making sure they: have chosen an activity they enjoy; have a program tailored to their own fitness level; set realistic goals; give their body a chance to adjust to the new routine; don't get discouraged if they don't see immediate results; don't give up if they miss a day; try to get back on track the next day or when they can; find an exercise partner for motivation and socialization (this doesn’t have to be the caregiver, but perhaps someone in the same program); don’t forget to create some “rest days” into their exercise schedule. Most importantly, before starting any exercise program, make sure that your loved one gets the okay from their physician. As a caregiver, it’s also important to make sure that your loved is listening to their body, especially if they begin to experience difficulty breathing, faintness, or prolonged weakness during or after exercise. These could be warning signs of a serious complication developing, so it’s best that they stop the exercise program until they see their physician regarding these or any other unusual symptoms. Simply put, exercise is one of the best gifts of encouragement a caregiver could share with their loved one, and it’s something that everyone will enjoy and benefit from, no matter what the level of mobility. Just a simple workout routine will lead to a happier, healthier outlook on life, with a renewed sense of optimism and hope, no matter what the challenges are that await us!
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