Whether you’ve been living with a disability for years or are still adjusting after a new injury, taking up an adaptive sport can have multiple benefits. However, like many members of the disability community, maybe you’ve been held back by societal pressures that suggest sports are only for the young and able-bodied, or maybe the thought of participating in a physical activity never even crossed your mind. But if you’re looking for a way to improve your overall well-being, moving that amazing body of yours is the best way to do it, and here’s why:
1. It Improves Your Physical Health
Of course, everyone knows that getting your heart rate up and building muscle is good for your body. Countless studies show that people who exercise regularly have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, stroke…I could go on and on. Along with disease prevention, anyone will tell you that physically moving your body just feels good! Well, maybe not at first, but once your muscles start to adapt after a few sessions, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been exercising or playing sports your whole life!
2. It Boosts Your Mental Health
Physical and mental well-being go hand in hand, so oftentimes, if you’re physically drained or have chronic pain, your mental state is quick to follow down the same road. Conversely, if you’ve got the blues, you may also feel fatigued or notice various aches and pains creeping up. Getting your heart pumping is a sure-fire way to trigger an endorphin and dopamine rush which not only creates a natural high by sending happy signals to your brain but can also block pain sensors in your body!
3. It Builds Relationships
When involved in team sports, group training for an individual sport, or simply going to the gym and working out, you are bound to meet new people. As you start hanging out with these people who share similar interests, connections happen naturally and you begin to build a support network. There’s no question that humans are hardwired to be social; even the most introverted among us need to love and feel loved. Finding people you can relate to helps you realize you’re not alone in your struggles. In addition, being part of a team or having a workout buddy, even in an informal setting, cultivates a sense of accountability. Sometimes we’re quick to give up on ourselves, but when others are counting on you, you’re a lot less likely to skip out on a game or training session.
4. It Fosters Self-Esteem
Once you start seeing the effects of regular physical activity, you’ll also start noticing your confidence levels increasing. Seeing a muscle appear for the first time that you never knew existed gives you a feeling of accomplishment, and knowing you worked hard to get to that point proves that you’re capable of setting a goal and achieving it. This feeling of confidence tends to spill over into all aspects of your life. A 2009 study noted that those participating in adaptive sports were twice as likely to be employed as the general population of adults with disabilities and over half of the participants reported that being physically active also helped them get a promotion at work!
5. It Educates and Inspires
If you’re living with a disability, you’re well aware of the stereotypes society commonly has about you. When you go out in public and participate in an adaptive sport, you’re not only proving society wrong, you’re also creating awareness, educating people, and dissipating the stigma that too often goes along with living with a disability. And who knows, you may just inspire the next Brian Bell or Jessica Long!
The hardest part about going from inactive to active is simply getting started. If you’re hesitant to join a team right off the bat, go watch a practice or match first. If even that seems too daunting, check out some adaptive fitness videos on YouTube and follow along in the comfort of your own home. Once you get in the groove, you’ll find that the desire to move your body will start to come naturally and you may even feel grumpy after a few days of inactivity! If you don’t know where to start, do an online search to see which adaptive sports are available in your area. You may be surprised what you find!
P.S. Don’t forget to check with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program or sport. They may also be able to point you in the right direction as many rehabilitation hospitals sponsor adaptive sports teams.