As an amputee or someone with a physical disability, it can be an uphill battle motivating yourself to get into a fitness regime.
We know how much it benefits us – whether we walk, require crutches, or use a wheelchair – but sometimes it’s tough to know how to get started or how to stay consistent. Here are some top tips for whatever fitness goals you might have…
Start small and build up
We have all fallen prey to making big plans that seem too much to handle after the first couple of hurdles. If you take the time to break them down into more manageable chunks, you may just find that you can stick to your plan more consistently. Write it down and make it achievable.
For example, instead of saying on day 1 that you’ll do a full-body workout, dial it right back to performing just one or two exercises. It might not sound like much if you’ve previously exercised regularly, but it could make all the difference long term.
Get the right advice
Setting goals is a fun and realistic place to start, but we also recommend talking to your GP or physio before diving in – especially if you have any medical concerns. Knowing what you can and can’t do, or how to adapt things to your level of ability, can help you feel safer and more prepared on your fitness journey.
You won’t get anywhere with an injury, so always seek professional advice beforehand.
You don’t need a gym to get started
You don’t need to be in a gym with all the (dumb) bells and whistles to be getting your exercise in for the week. It can be as simple as going for a walk or a move around in your wheelchair or crutches.
Start by going out in the garden or along your street, and build up to going to a local park or a scenic route. It’s a good idea to have a little check of accessibility ahead of time to take away any potential worries or concerns, too.
Something that isn’t talked about as often when discussing exercise is the importance of stretching – which is especially the case for amputees as your muscles can more easily become tight when you aren’t using the same ranges of motion that you would if you had your full limb. We feel this is a great way to prevent potential injuries and also save yourself a cramp or two.
You may be exercising without even knowing it
Day-to-day activities like going to the shops and running errands are exercise – especially so if you are starting from a point of lower activity levels.
Just because it may not be the typical idea of what exercise is, it doesn’t mean you can’t define that for yourself and how you wish to meet your daily targets. If we’re talking about shopping for example, you could consider a smaller list so that you have to get out more regularly.
You don’t need fancy gym equipment or the Abdominizer 5000 to get started. It can be as simple as using pots and pans, bags of rice, bottles of water, a towel, or anything else you can find around your home that can help add some weight or resistance to your exercises.
Consider adding some light exercise into your daily tasks, too. For example, glute exercises while cooking or doing the washing.
Exercise is only part of the equation
A big part of progress is diet. It deserves an article on its own, but here are some ideas you may want to consider.
If you’re someone who doesn’t eat many vegetables, consider adding a few into your cooking to take the place of some of your protein or carb content. Vegetables have a lot of fibre and will help you stay fuller for longer which means you may not actually crave that afternoon snack. It’s a win-win.
You might also want to consider changing the times you eat. This is particularly true if you are beginning to exercise, as our bodies often crave those much-needed proteins and nutrients after we work out. Having plans in place so that you have something to eat after exercise means you’re much less likely to grab the first thing you see when you’re feeling pumped up and ‘hangry’, and undoing all that great work you just did.
We can’t talk about healthier living without mentioning water. We’ve all been guilty of not drinking enough water throughout the day, but it helps our bodies run efficiently and feeds into everything else we do. Try to keep a water bottle close by through most of the day and you might find yourself reaching out to it more than you expect.
You’ll find that as you eat more of what’s right for you and your body, and stay hydrated, you will likely feel your mental health and energy levels improve. This creates a brilliant cycle where because we feel better, we want to do it more, and it helps us stay consistent with our aims.
Take advantage of classes and groups
There are many local groups that do regular sessions – signing up for something like this in advance adds accountability to your efforts, and is a great way to motivate yourself. These don’t have to be expensive either – there are places like Glasgow Club that have discounted rates for people on certain benefits, so it’s worth having a look.
If you happen to be in one of our areas in Scotland, you might like to take part in one of our clubs which have a whole range of different physical activities including gym sessions, swimming, yoga and more. You can have a look at our calendar after registering here.
A great way to get your exercise in for the week is sport – especially if you don’t fancy traditional workouts. This also has the added benefit of being a social activity and you could meet like-minded people.
There are organisations like Scottish Disability Sport that host many different events through the week, as well as ‘Come and Try Taster Sessions’ so you can test out a whole range of sports and see what you fancy most.
There’s a whole world of fitness at your fingertips
There are plenty of online options for you to get your exercise in at home. This can range from low-level activity to intensive at home fitness programmes. You can have a wee look on YouTube for an exercise class of your choosing, for example, chair fitness, yoga, or Pilates.
As a charity, we offer a private Facebook group for amputees – FYF Clubs. In the group, we’ve got a whole load of these types of sessions run by instructors specifically for those who have lost limbs to be able to take part.
Get an accountability partner
It can be a fun idea to start with a friend, family member, or partner. Not only does it mean you have the accountability to help you keep on track, but company is never a bad thing, and any social anxiety you may have about getting fit might just be curbed slightly.
Partnering up can also be a great way to connect (or re-connect) with your loved ones, an old friend, or somebody completely new.
Mental health is a big factor
Exercise can be a great way to boost your mood and can help some take on other aspects of their life with more confidence. But it’s not a fix-all – if you happen to be struggling mentally or feeling stuck in general, it may be worth having a look at some of the options available to you online or from your local GP.
We have a page dedicated to well-being with some useful resources you can take advantage of here.
Don’t let setbacks get you down
It’s completely normal and expected for life or motivation to get in the way of our fitness goals. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up or feel like progress has been lost through inactivity.
Sometimes we need to deal with more pressing issues and keep our heads above the water before we can reach targets that can often be quite daunting. It can be useful to take a step back for a little while until we feel we’re back in the right frame of mind to take them on again. Don’t put yourself down – build yourself up by adapting your target to fit the needs of your situation.
Fitness can be one of the most rewarding yet frustrating pursuits we take on, and that’s not made any easier by having limb loss. The most important thing to remember is that slow success is still success.