Health and Fitness

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Fitness and health are import aspects of a person’s wellbeing. People experiencing motor impairment can, and do, exercise whether it’s by participating in organized activities such as sports, or in solitary movement such as calisthenics or yoga. Some require therapeutic measures while others enjoy the sensations of feeling fit or the pleasure of recreation. The key is finding a way to engage in sustained movement that provides form, support, stability, movement and balance to the body’s musculoskeletal system.

Maintaining physical health has its rewards

Most children with Cerebral Palsy live well into adulthood. With that happy development, however, is the notion that adults with Cerebral Palsy should maintain the highest level of health and fitness possible.

If a person cultivates a nutritionally-sound, rested, and active lifestyle, they are destined for a healthier path.

Because Cerebral Palsy is non-progressive, the impairment will not advance but could improve with treatment, therapy or surgical interventions. However, the stress and strain on a person’s body as it functions with impairment from day-to-day can lead to premature aging, osteoparosis and arthritis.

The aging process can be compounded by the effects of secondary conditions (i.e., pain levels due to inactivity) and unrelated health concerns (i.e., broken hip due to fall), not to mention the natural progression of the aging process.

Other health concerns that affect everyone’s health – smoking, drug use, unhealthy sleep patterns, inactivity levels, obesity, and such – should be kept at bay.

As is the case for all, a healthy dose of sleep, exercise, fitness and nutrition can thwart the advancement of disease and further disability.

Why is it important to keep an eye on a person’s overall health?

As a person ages, he or she develops health concerns that might be minor inconveniences. These are a healthy part of living a long life that everyone is prone to.

An adult with Cerebral Palsy, even if he or she has a mild to moderate case, may age prematurely due to the stress and strains placed on the body’s musculoskeletal system – the system that provides the body with much needed support, stability and movement is the vary system that is largely affected in individuals with motor impairment.

It is for these reasons that a person with Cerebral Palsy will need to prioritize their overall health starting when they are young. For most, early intervention and physical therapy is a staple during childhood. As a child grows, surgical interventions, adaptive equipment and drug therapy are also common.

But physical health often suffers when health insurance coverage stops, therapies are discontinued, government assistance is reduced, or education plans no longer warrant. Children transitioning into adulthood have not been conditioned to maintain physical health, much less worry about the impact of inactivity on the aging process later in life.

Granted, avoiding the pitfalls of an unhealthful lifestyle isn’t going to change the physical effects of a person’s Cerebral Palsy, but maintaining health and fitness will help to safeguard against premature aging. An active and healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and proper diet will be rewarded with increased mobility and dexterity later in life.

What role will the aging process play in a person’s health?

As people get older, they often develop conditions that are considered chronic as opposed to acute. An aging body is less able to respond to physical stress, which means that a variety of conditions are at play. This is true for all.

The consequences of premature aging with a condition such as Cerebral Palsy can be cause for concern. Take, for example, a person that walks with an irregular gait. Stress on the limbs may, over time, hasten the development of conditions like arthritis. When this occurs, it can impede a person’s ability to ambulate. Further stresses on a person’s system that are secondary – such as pain levels – my further accelerate physical declines. And, inactivity can lead to weight gain, diabetes and health disease, for example.

When secondary conditions are present, they can complicate a person’s life in the following ways:

  • Create pain, discomfort
  • Decrease independence, increase dependency
  • Prevent day-to-day functions
  • Increase emotional distress

When a person’s health becomes compromised after they have worked hard to improve their physical capabilities earlier in life, it’s often a source of great distress. However, it’s a normal part of aging for the most part, and with the right preventative health measures, functional dysfunction can be eliminated or mitigated. Proper diet, exercise, and healthy sleep patterns apply to all.

As a person approaches their overall health and well-being, it’s always helpful to know that there are fixes for many secondary conditions.

Just because a person has a disability or impairment does not mean he or she is unhealthy. For that reason, a person with Cerebral Palsy should seek health care that treats the whole body.

What are the most common, or likely, health concerns a person with Cerebral Palsy will face as he or she ages?

The body’s ability to rebound from injury and illness becomes strained over time. It’s a part of life that everyone that is lucky enough to age will experience at one time or another. The more a person has an eye on their health, however, the healthier he or she will be. It’s a personal choice with long-term ramifications.

The failure to adhere to a regular exercise program and a nutritionally-sound diet has consequences, some of which will exacerbate a person’s disability. Even if a person does maintain a healthy lifestyle, some secondary conditions will develop, such as:

  • Cardiovascular troubles
  • Neurological difficulties
  • Respiratory problems
  • Cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Emotional distress
  • Heart disease

What active measures can a person take to maintain his or her health?

There are no shortcuts around maintaining a high level of health – it’s all about engaging in an active lifestyle to the highest extent possible, eating right and maintaining healthy sleep patterns.

Often, people with Cerebral Palsy believe they cannot lead an active lifestyle, but exercise levels are relative to our abilities. Every day, people with a disability engage in sports, take part in group exercise classes, participate in therapeutic sessions, or enjoy solitary fitness regimens. There’s no reason most people with Cerebral Palsy can’t find something that works for them; it’s a matter of finding an activity that is structured, sustainable and enjoyable.

Exercise programs that will greatly affect a person’s health in a positive way help reduce stress on the heart, which helps to lengthen a person’s lifespan. For adults, it’s recommended that 30 minutes of activity, at least five days a week, is sufficient to maintain health.

The goals of an exercise program should be to:

  • Improve cardiovascular conditioning
  • Increase strength
  • Encourage flexibility
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Balance blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Some exercises that can help people maintain a high level of fitness include:

  • Walking
  • Movement
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics
  • Chair exercises (from a seated position in a chair or a wheelchair)
  • Organized sports of any kind
  • Yoga
  • Dancing
  • Stretching
  • Aqua therapy

A person’s impairment may also dictate daily routines to maintain spasticity, thwart contractures, or maintain muscle tonality.

It is believed that every individual should sleep a sound 6 to 8 hours a day on a consistent basis in order to take advantage of the body’s ability to heal at rest.

The other piece of the health puzzle is a balanced diet. The role of eating right cannot be overstated – it helps people keep their weight at a healthy level, which is especially important if a person has significant mobility limitations. The nutrients provided by healthy foods power our bodies and our brains; they give people the energy needed to lead productive lives. Likewise, poor diet choices or unhealthy eating patterns can place undue strain on an otherwise, healthy person.

A healthy diet consists of lean proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruits, milk and a limited amount of fat. Of course, trans fats such as the ones found in snack foods should be avoided.

If a person has dietary concerns or feeding abnormalities – common in individuals with oral-motor dysfunction – he or she should consult with a registered dietician for suggested meal planning, diets and food preparation.

Another suggestion for maintaining health is meditation and relaxation. A simple 30-minute meditation gives people a chance to relax and reflect on the future. The health benefits are numerous, and include reducing stress, and encouraging happiness and spirituality.

Health practitioners recommend at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. But, too much sleep, or too little, combined with extremely low energy levels can be cause for concern, possibly signs of depression or anxiety.

Are physical and occupational therapy a feature of only childhood, or are they a staple for life?

From the time adults with Cerebral Palsy are diagnosed, therapies and medical treatment become second nature. Just because that person is an adult, to most people’s chagrin, those interventions shouldn’t cease.

Ways that a person can maintain both his or her health include:

  • Seeking care from a physician that improves one’s health
  • Talking openly about bodily changes
  • Understanding how and why his or her body is changing
  • Maintaining health care records
  • Seeking out adaptive equipment when needed
  • Making sure a health care is accessible
  • Consulting with physical therapists, occupational therapists, fitness trainers and more, when a concern develops

How can a person maintain the motivation to live healthy over time?

Maintaining good health can be a challenge that sometimes not within reach. There will be days when a person overeats, or decides not to exercise. That’s not unusual – it’s human.

The best way to stay motivated is to take transgressions with a grain of salt and move on. Meeting fitness goals requires and understanding of what works for the individual – it’s not about mimicking what works for someone else. Once a person finds the preferred balance of activities, exercise regimen, fitness routines, sleep and relaxation, and proper diet that work best for him or her, it’s becomes easier to maintain sufficient energy and motivation. It can actually be a reward, in and of itself.

Some tips for staying motivated include:

  • If a person falls off the wagon, just start again
  • Track progress on a chart
  • Ask for help from medical professionals
  • Include family and friends
  • Partner with others of like circumstance

One factor that can hamper progress is when expectations are unrealistic. It’s not reasonable to expect that a person can run a marathon after training for a week. When expectations aren’t realistic, it can be demotivating. If this occurs, try making smaller, attainable goals. Short-term goals, once met, can lead to long-term rewards.