We’re not about faddy New Year’s resolutions here at MFON towers, but we do believe that those small changes really can make a big difference to how you feel both mentally and physically.
It isn’t news to anyone that exercise is good for you and children of all ages. It’s regularly emphasised as an important part of young people’s development and education. So why should it be different for disabled people? As Vanessa Wallace and John Parfitt, who are both qualified disabled fitness instructors, quite rightly say, it shouldn’t.
If Rio 2016 proved anything; it’s that disability doesn’t need to be a barrier to exercise and sport. Team GB closed the Rio Paralympic Games by securing second place in the Medals Table with a total of 147 medals, 64 of which were Gold. You can read My Family, Our Needs’ round-up of the Paralympic sports here.
Our Paralympians smashed World Records and beat off fantastic competition on the way to achieving their successes. Now, we know these athletes are at the top of their game, but they’ve definitely inspired us to get more active.
Getting into fitness
Vanessa Wallace has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Fixed Dystonia in her lower limbs. Her whole body is affected and she experiences chronic pain and fatigue. She says, ‘I have first-hand experience of how it feels to not know how to even begin approaching fitness, let alone think it is a place where you belong. But we need to change this – schools, clubs, centres and the whole fitness industry need more disabled people to have a strong presence across the country.’
John Parfitt sustained a spinal cord injury aged 25, which has left him a full-time wheelchair user. He says, ‘Exercise has been a fundamental part of my recovery. Building strength and fitness has allowed me to have a more independent and active lifestyle. My injury has given me new horizons that might not have been available to me, such as representing GB in wheelchair sports together with the opportunity to travel the world.’
Vanessa agrees, ‘Despite the fight, struggles, tears and having to constantly explain my disability to people, I feel it has had a positive impact on my confidence and self-awareness, and sport and exercise have been key to this. Accept that it’s ok to feel however you feel – it can be a struggle to get where you want to be but trust yourself that you’ll get there.’
Vanessa and John both qualified as fitness instructors through InstructAbility, a programme created by Aspire and YMCAfit, to offer free fitness industry training to unemployed disabled people. InstructAbility aims to challenge negative perceptions of disabled people in society and encourage greater participation of disabled people in sport and leisure activity.
Benefits of exercise
According to the NHS, people who regularly exercise have a 30% lower risk of premature death and a 30% lower risk of depression. Exercise can boost mood and energy levels and improve sleep. It is also believed to help memory and brain function and to reduce stress. As Vanessa explains, ‘Sport and fitness activities have given me, and the people I’ve worked with, a sense of self-worth. It’s something that you’re doing – not something that someone else is doing for you. A lot of being disabled can be based on other people helping you but, with sport, I’ve got something to do that’s mine. You can say – I threw that, I caught that, I moved it – it’s yours.’
John adds, ‘Take it upon yourself to get out there – it’s your own life. The benefits will far outweigh any difficulties you might have.’
You can find more information on InstructAbility here
What do you and your family do to keep active? My Family, Our Needs would love to hear your tips so if you or your child want to share your story email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @weareMFON
This feature has been adapted from an article originally published in Progress Magazine.