Walking With Disabilities And Health Problems

Walking can be enjoyed by almost everyone, including many people with disabilities and health problems. The difficulties encountered will of course depend on the nature of the individual condition, but the good news is that gentle exercise, like walking, is beneficial to most physical and mental health problems. In all cases, if you have a serious or long-term medical condition, are very inactive or have a condition that could be aggravated by exercise, you should consult your doctor before beginning a new walking regime.

Wheelchairs and limited mobility

Mobility problems can take many forms and individuals may have very different requirements and abilities. In general, though, paths with smooth surfaces, free of steps, obstructions and slopes are desirable. In rural areas, easy access trails and cycle paths are often good options, as these have good surfaces and no stiles. You can walk on all cycle paths in Somerset. On segregated cycle paths (those split into a "walking" side and a "cycling" side), you should stick to the Walking side even if you are in a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Cyclists can travel very fast (typically 15-20 miles an hour) so remain alert and aware when walking on cycle paths, especially on blind corners.

Heart conditions

Regular exercise is essential to maintain a healthy heart. It lowers blood pressure, controls weight and cholesterol, prevents blood clots and combats stress. People with heart conditions should try to exercise regularly, but not intensively to avoid putting too much strain on the heart. Walking is therefore an excellent choice. You should aim for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Build up slowly and stop if you experience pain or shortness of breath. Your doctor can perform an ECG exercise test to determine a safe level of exercise for you.

Joint and bone conditions

Low impact, weight bearing activities like walking build bone density, strengthen muscles and increase flexibility, so are great for joint and bone conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis. It is important to warm up and stretch before attempting longer walks, and to stop and rest if your condition flares up. Preparation is also important – make sure you are wearing supportive, shock absorbing footwear and choose routes that are flat and smooth-surfaced with few steps.

Obesity and weight problems

Exercise is an essential part of weight control and general health. Walking is a good way for obese and overweight people to get back on the path to fitness as it does not put too much strain on the joints or heart, is easily worked into your normal routine (so you are more likely to stick to it) and is effective. To be effective, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate walking a day, but it is important to build up to this gradually if you are very overweight or inactive. At this rate, you should lose about 1lb of weight every 3 weeks, or 1 ½ stone per year. The good news is that the more you weigh, the more calories you will burn per mile or walking.

Asthma

Exercise can help alleviate asthma but building lung capacity and general fitness. However, over-doing it can bring on attack, so it is important to build up the speed and duration of your walk slowly and stop if you start to feel wheezy. Make sure you always carry your reliever inhaler, and take it before starting off if exercise triggers your asthma. Breathe through your nose to warm the air before it enters your lungs, and breathe through a scarf on particularly cold days. Planning your walk is also important, to make sure you don't come into contact with any plants, animals or other environmental factors that might trigger an attack.

Blindness and visual impairment

The mobility of people with visual impairments varies with the individual. For most people, however, it is easier to move around independently in towns and urban areas than in open countryside. Guide dogs are also generally trained for urban environments rather than rural. People with sight problems may therefore welcome the help of a sighted companion in open or unfamiliar areas. If you have lost, or are losing your sight, organisations such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind offer help and training to teach you to get around.