Exercise and disABILITY

If I had to choose one thing that working in the exercise and disability field for 15 years has taught me, it would be:

“Focus on the ABILITY not the disability”.


We all know the benefits of exercise such as increased cardiovascular fitness, strength/endurance and flexibility, decreased risk of developing/managing chronic disease, weight control, and improved mental health. However the benefits of exercising in people with disability are even more important due to a more sedentary lifestyle. Additionally there are social benefits of getting out into the community reducing social isolation.

Here are some real life examples of how exercise has made a difference in the lives of people living with disability:


Joanne: 52 years old, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

Joanne has a SCI following a car accident that has left her unable to walk or use her hands to grasp objects. Joanne lives on her own and often feels isolated and lonely and wanted to get back into the gym. Joanne also suffered from chronic back pain and poor posture from being in her manual wheelchair.

Allied health staff assisted Joanne with a customised glove that allowed her to grasp the bars and handles on the gym equipment. With the support of an exercise physiologist and Joanne’s determination, she has now increased her upper body and back strength. This has resulted in improved posture and decreased back pain. Additionally, Joanne loves the interaction with the staff and has made friends with some of the regular gym members.


Bianca: 36 years old, Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

Bianca fell from a balcony when she was 2 years old that resulted in an ABI. Bianca has physical and cognitive impairments and lives at home with her parents. Her mother knows that exercise can help improve Bianca’s mobility, strength, balance and coordination, however Bianca hates the gym and exercising.

Therefore Bianca’s mother enlisted the help of an exercise physiologist. The exercise physiologist was able to devise an individualised home exercise program using resistance bands incorporated games to make it fun for Bianca. Bianca’s favourite activities are boxing (assists with increasing upper body strength and flexibility) and bowling (assists with coordination and mobility).


Sam: 19 years old, Cerebral Palsy (CP)

Sam has CP and uses an electric wheelchair. He requires full support for his personal care and mobility. Sam’s muscles are very tight and he wanted to go to a hydrotherapy pool to help his muscles to relax.

The exercise physiologist was able to work with Sam and his carers to prescribe an individualised hydrotherapy program. Sam finds the warmth and buoyancy of the water supportive and relaxing. The exercises that he performs with the support of his carers help to stretch out his tight muscles especially in the hips, legs and arms. But best of all, Sam says with a big smile “I feel free and I can walk in the water”.


If you have a disability or know someone with a disability who would like to exercise, make sure to get a medical clearance first. You may choose to enlist the help of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who will be able to assess and prescribe an individualised exercise program while taking into account chronic disease, injury and disability.