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YOU CAN DO IT!
One of the best days of my life was when I crossed the finish line after walking a mile in my local 5K race. Not because I placed first, second or third. I didn’t. I came in dead last. As in, the racecourse was closing down, and I still had a quarter of a mile to go. It took me an hour and a half to complete what it took most to finish in 20 to 30 minutes. I was dead tired, sore, my knees were giving in…but I never felt better in my life!
Having cerebral palsy is challenging. I get it. I was born with spastic quadriplegia where it’s difficult for my body to do what I want it to do. My muscles will spasm occasionally, my body stiffens when I talk or try to perform a task as my spasticity goes on “overload”. I sit for long periods of time in my chair, which does not add any benefit to me or my body. At the end of the day, if I haven’t had much physical activity, I know it. My body is stiff and unmanageable and I have a hard time falling asleep at night because my mind doesn’t want to shut down that easily.
There is a reason why the top New Year’s Resolution almost every year is to “exercise to get in shape”. People know being active is good for them, but it’s a difficult thing for anyone to “be active”. Most people like to drag their feet when they “have to exercise.” You see testimony of this around this time every year. Ads start popping up for free 3-month memberships to the local gym, sales on treadmills and other exercise equipment start canvassing the tv’s and internet in order to entice you to “stick to your New Year’s Resolution” of getting back into shape. It’s important for all of us to take care of our bodies, and having a physical disability doesn’t automatically excuse you from trying.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Use it or lose it.” Well, it’s true. The less active you are the harder it will be on your body in the long run. It’s a sad fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of adults with disabilities who are able to be physically active in some way don’t get any aerobic physical activity at all. Not only can being physically active help you in maintaining or controlling your weight, and help maintain flexibility to greatly improve the function of your limbs, but it can improve your mental well-being and help lower the risk of acquiring heart disease and diabetes for example. When I do exercise or am active, my day is completely different. I think more clearly, have more energy, my mood is more positive and upbeat and I sleep like a baby. My body and mind are better for it. Which is why it’s even more important to stay as active as you can.
I understand being active is easier said than done, believe me, but the rewards far outweigh the trouble. To make it a little more manageable for you, let me show you how to more easily get yourself to be as active as possible.
The first thing to do would be to set a goal. When I walked that mile, it was the absolute best feeling. Why? Because I had set a goal for myself and reached it. Having goals in life is extremely important. Goals help you to stay focused, challenge you, motivate you and build your confidence. According to research done by psychologist, Dr. Gail Matthews, you are 42% more likely to reach your goals if you write them down and have them where you can see them. Your goals on paper help you to stay focused on what you want. As you get closer to reaching your goal you may become deluged with other opportunities that could pull you away from your original goal. However, having it written down keeps you on track.
Start off small. Don’t commit to an hour every day. That is going to leave you frustrated and you will hate exercising all the more. Ten minutes a day. I think you’ll be surprised at how those ten minutes will eventually turn into fifteen minutes and a half an hour! Plus, bigger goals can seem more attainable if you have smaller goals that are doable. Have you ever heard the phrase “you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time”? It’s true. Eventually those small stints of being active will lead to more participation because you feel so much better about yourself both mentally and physically.
Another way to help you become active is to do something that interests you. If you don’t like exercising, making a goal to exercise every Wednesday for an hour probably won’t hold. But if you love a certain show, commit to doing stretches or lifting some light weights while watching that show every time it’s on. Remember, any exercising is better than just being sedentary!
Maybe you like to be around people, then form a group who will commit to meeting once a week to do something together with them. Being with others also helps you to stay committed and hold you accountable. If you know someone else is having to do the same thing you are, it makes staying active much more manageable.
I attended the Conductive Learning Center growing up. They teach mobility-challenged kids and young adults in a group setting how to cognitively and functionally learn to complete tasks by seeing through the whole process. One of the most important elements in doing this was setting physical goals at the beginning of the four or five week session. My friends and I all set individual goals for ourselves and then we motivated and encouraged each other to reach those goals. This was one of the greatest gifts the center ever gave me. At a young age, I learned how to make goals and go after them until I attained them with the help of friends who I knew had my back.
Once you take these steps, being active becomes more a state of mind. You no longer “hate” participating in it because you A.) know it’s a goal you have set for yourself, B.) are just taking it in little doses at first, and C.) enjoy it because you are wrapping it around something you love to do. Together, all of these lead you to think being active is not something “I have to do”, but something “I get to do”. You now have an attitude of gratitude, as I like to call it!
If you still are struggling to get yourself up and be active, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation has made it even easier for you, by creating the first all-inclusive exercise app called Evolve 21. It combines all the elements I just talked about. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s easy. Check it out by going here: https://www.evolve21.org and downloading the app. There are now no more excuses for getting out there and being as active as you possibly can! Congratulations on taking your first step!
Founder & President of JohnnysPass.com
Product Ambassador for Under Armour & Rifton