Participating in Adaptive Sports
A man in a dark tee shirt and yellow shorts plays pickleball next to a woman in a wheelchair swinging her racquet back to hit the ball while wearing a bright pink top.
Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, according to health-care recommendations. It makes no difference what activities you engage in as long as they get you moving.
But what if you’ve been hurt, have a chronic illness or health condition, are disabled, or are simply getting older and finding it difficult to be active? Adaptive sports may be able to provide a much-needed helping hand in situations like these.
What are these “adapted sports,” exactly?
People with disabilities or physical limitations can participate in adaptive sports, which can be competitive or recreational. They frequently run concurrently with traditional activities, but the activities are modified to support the participants’ specific physical abilities.
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“Eventually, almost everyone will experience some kind of disability that impedes regular exercise, whether it’s mild arthritis, requiring a knee or hip replacement, limited vision, or a more significant physical diathesis,” says Dr. Cheri Blauwet, an associate professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and a former wheelchair racer who is a seven-time Paralympic medalist and two-time winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons.
Why is it critical to stay active throughout the day?
A lack of adequate and regular physical activity raises the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. It also has an impact on mood. Individuals with disabilities, according to Dr. Blauwet, are especially vulnerable due to the difficulties associated with maintaining an active lifestyle. “Adaptive sports allow us to continue exercising on a regular basis while also supporting our health and well-being moving forward,” you can say.
This is backed up by research. According to one study, people who participated in adaptive sports and activities had better overall health, quality of life, and social lives.
How can you learn about the various adaptive activities available in your area?
The Challenged Athletes Foundation and the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability both have websites where you can search for accessible activities and adaptive sports programs at the state and local levels. “These programs can also help you find mentors and coaches, as well as the support system that you need to be successful,” says Dr. Blauwet.
There are numerous sports and activities to choose from, but the one you choose should be based on your interests and ability to perform the activity.
Make the most of your strengths and explore new opportunities
Dr. Blauwet will discuss some additional strategies that will help you transition to adaptive activities.
Examine your current workout routine
According to Dr. Blauwet, “almost any kind of sport or activity can be adjusted to accommodate people with disabilities,” which means you may be able to continue with an activity you previously enjoyed.
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For example, former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, an avid cyclist who lives with a brain injury as a result of an assassination attempt, now rides a recumbent bike as part of her ongoing therapy due to right-side paralysis and balance issues. Prior to her injury, Giffords was an avid cyclist. (A recumbent bike is a three-wheel bicycle that places the rider in a seated or laid-back and reclined position.)
Other sports and activities’ rules can be modified in the same way
Specialized golf carts, for example, can help you stand and stabilize your body while swinging the club, which can help you play the game better. Sled hockey involves players gliding across the ice on sleds rather than skates.
Pay attention to your strong points
Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t do; instead, focus on what you can. Is it true that running is no longer an option? What about brisk walking while using walking poles to support yourself? Can you move your legs at all? Concentrate on upper-body activities such as swimming or paddling. Do you have it? A guide can accompany you on your walk, run, or bike ride.
Find a group to join
Many adaptive sports have organized team leagues with adapted rules and formats, such as wheelchair basketball and tennis, as well as “beep” baseball and kickball for people with low vision. “These are an excellent way to raise awareness about your new endeavor and build a community with other peers who have disabilities similar to your own,” says Dr. Blauwet, adding that “healthy competition serves as an additional source of motivation.”
Experiment with new things
Utilize your newly acquired functional status by participating in a sport or activity that is completely new to you. Dr. Blauwet recommends that patients “test the waters” by doing something that has always piqued their interest. It’s possible that the best time to try activities like rock climbing, waterskiing, horseback riding, and windsurfing is right now.