Living a Healthy Lifestyle with a Disability

May 06, 2014
Tagged with: Living a Healthy Lifestyle with a Disability


Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during an era of increased technology, processed food, and lack of exercise is a challenge for anyone. However, for a person with a disability, it can feel nearly impossible. There are many people with various disabilities who are able to successfully maintain healthy lifestyle.


Your Brain is a Muscle, Too

Many disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, and so on, can be traced back to brain damage. Traumatic brain injuries in particular can entail a long recovery process and differing degrees of changes to the brain. Because of those changes, TBI patients need constant memory stimulation. offers several online games related to this, but other sites can supplement their activities as well. For example, and offer games organized by category, including verbal and mathematical intelligence, memory, executive function, and visual function. TBI patients can also improve their memory by re-familiarizing themselves with well-loved people and things, such as family photos, home movies, and favorite books. Persons with other disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and others, need mental stimulation as well. I was fortunate in that I loved books and was high-functioning, but even lower-functioning individuals must work to maintain mental health as well. That can mean reading, watching and discussing movies, playing memory games, or other activities. For a very low-functioning person, this could even mean categorizing favorite things, such as figurines or CDs.

Get Out and Get Fit

As I mentioned, physical fitness can be a real difficulty for people with disabilities, including traumatic brain injuries. A TBI can result in a coma, which leads to muscle breakdown and atrophy, so those individuals need particular help to regain fitness. Fortunately, several options exist. For example, according to, even while a person is in a coma, family members and physical therapists can begin stretches and light exercising to bring back range of motion. After recovery begins, TBI patients can begin exercising at their comfort level, with supervision from family, friends, or spotters. A good option for people with TBI or other disabilities is using the machines at a local fitness center. For example, I have built up range of motion and weight control through treadmills and stationary bicycles. These are also beneficial to people who need supervision while exercising because of the machines’ stationary nature. Recent statistics show that about 34% of children with special needs are overweight because of their bodies’ limitations. Particular disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, can carry a higher risk because of the mental as well as physical components involved. To prevent these statistics from rising, and to help people with disabilities gain self-esteem about their bodies and appearance, exercise should be encouraged and made pleasurable. As much as possible, let the person decide his or her own exercise methods and routine, and look for natural fitness opportunities in addition to physical therapy.

Talk and Listen

Many people with disabilities find themselves isolated because of what they need help with or cannot do. For example, some people with disabilities cannot drive, even after receiving therapy or recovering from injuries. Therefore, they stay isolated because they lack the consistent transportation or support to go anywhere. This can be emotionally draining and unhealthy. One of the best ways to counteract isolation is to make the effort to spend as much time with your loved one as possible. Listen to their needs, wants, or questions, and share about your experiences while inviting them to participate as much as possible.

You can also help your loved one find an online support network for their particular disability, such as, National Down Syndrome Society, or Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging can also be a great creative outlet for people with disabilities. Blogging in particular can be cathartic because they can be heavily personalized and, if the person chooses, read like a daily diary. In fact, as I know from experience, when a person with a disability shares his or her story, awareness of the person, as well as the disability, increases. This increases the potential for friendships.

Maintaining health is a challenge for anyone, but perhaps more so for people with TBI or other disabilities. However, with tips and strategies like these, physical, mental, and social health can not only be maintained, but also improved. I have used these strategies in my own life and found them beneficial. I hope others will as well. To get started in finding strategies and supports that work for you, sign up for

Author: Shelly Duell

  • bobl07

    Thank you for all the tips on the importance of activity for people with TBI and other chronic illnesses.