Wheelchair user exercising with their friend


How People With Disabilities Can Overcome Barriers to Physical Activity


Five years ago, Sheila Goble, a 49-year-old retired teacher, wife, and mother of two, suddenly lost control of the right side of her body and collapsed on her bedroom floor. A ruptured blood vessel was bleeding into the surrounding regions of her brain.

“One minute, I was getting dressed to go for a morning walk, and the next minute, I was on the ground,” Goble, now 54, recalls.

In September 2017, Goble suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, which accounts for approximately 13 percent of all strokes in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. Without immediate medical attention, the risk of permanent disability and brain damage increases significantly.

Racing against the clock, she was rushed to a nearby hospital in Michigan, where doctors determined that her stroke occurred in the basal ganglia and the internal capsule—brain regions responsible for coordination and movement. Goble lost feeling and was paralyzed on the right side of her body. No longer able to walk on her own, she relied on a wheelchair to get around and needed help performing the most basic tasks, such as using the bathroom, bathing, and brushing her teeth. For years, Goble had advocated for disabled people as a special education teacher, and now found herself with a disability of her own.

Goble was referred to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a Chicago-based physical medicine and rehabilitation hospital that specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders, stroke, and amputation.

As she passed through the facility’s sliding glass doors, she was greeted by a large, bright mural that read, “The soul moves first.” For Goble, this message hit home.

“I don’t know where my recovery’s going to be,” she recalls thinking. “There’s no certainty in this. I could be using a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I could learn to walk again. We don’t know. There’s no guarantee." Goble admits feeling frightened but also grateful to be alive.

Determined to continue living a healthy life with her disability, Goble began working out several times a week with an exercise physiologist, who helped her adapt exercises to focus on what she could do, rather than what she couldn’t.

Adapting to Increased Physical Activity


Whether people are born with a disability or develop one, like Goble, due to an illness, injury or chronic condition, regular physical activity can help improve quality of life and reduce the risk for other health issues or complications.

Researchers have examined the benefits of regular exercise among diverse groups of people with disabilities stemming from trauma and chronic conditions, including stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, amputation, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that physical activity offers a range of notable health benefits, such as enhanced cardiovascular and muscle fitness, improved brain health, and greater ability to perform routine daily tasks.

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