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Disability Aerobics: Exercises for Seniors and Disabled

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2018/12/03

Synopsis: Examples of Aerobic exercises for seniors and people with disabilities including exercises and local aerobic classes.


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Aerobics is defined as a form of physical exercise that combines rhythmic aerobic exercise with stretching and strength training routines with the goal of improving all elements of fitness (flexibility, muscular strength, and cardio-vascular fitness). Aerobic exercise (also known as cardio) is physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. Aerobic exercise and fitness can be contrasted with anaerobic exercise, of which strength training and short-distance running are the most salient examples.

During intense aerobic exercise, the body uses more oxygen, and breathing and heart rate increase. Over time, regular aerobic exercise will improve a person's health and fitness and reduce levels of body fat. Regular physical activity reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease and helps to prevent diabetes, injury and some forms of cancer, as well as positively influencing mental and social health and wellbeing.

Aerobic exercise and fitness can be contrasted with anaerobic exercise, of which strength training and weight training are the most salient examples. The two types of exercise differ by the duration and intensity of muscular contractions involved, as well as by how energy is generated within the muscle. Initially during aerobic exercise, glycogen is broken down to produce glucose, which is then broken down using oxygen to generate energy. In the absence of these carbohydrates, fat metabolism is initiated instead.

While heart rate monitoring has problems in application for some disabled athletes, it is still the most widely used technique for monitoring exercise intensity in all populations, and it should be included in the programming for adaptive aerobics classes, as well as for disabled athletes within mainstream studio aerobics.

Several limiting factors on the heart rate being used with standard ranges must be acknowledged; the disabled athlete may have a disability that limits the trainable, usable muscle mass, the disabled athlete may have impaired cardiovascular or autonomic function, the disabled athlete's anaerobic threshold may differ from an athlete without disability and the athlete may be influenced by drugs that alter physiologic responses to exercise.

Recognized Benefits of Regular Aerobic Exercise Include

  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration, to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
  • Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure.
  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen.
  • Improved mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression.
  • Strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle, to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate.
  • Toning muscles throughout the body.

Some people may suffer repetitive stress injuries with some forms of aerobics, and must choose less injurious, "low-impact" forms of aerobics, or lengthen the gap between bouts of exercise to allow for greater recovery.

Clipart image of 4 seniors performing aerobic exercises.
Clipart image of 4 seniors performing aerobic exercises.

Quick Facts Regarding Aerobic Exercise

  • Aerobic movement as a formal exercise has been popular since the late 1960s.
  • Aerobics, the term and the specific exercise method, were developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, M.D., an exercise physiologist, and Col. Pauline Potts, a physical therapist, both of the United States Air Force.
  • Aerobic gymnastics, also known as sport aerobics and competitive aerobics, is a type of competitive aerobics involving complicated choreography, rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics with elements of aerobics.
  • Aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular problems.
  • Higher intensity exercise, such as High-intensity interval training (HIIT), increases the resting metabolic rate (RMR) in the 24 hours following high intensity exercise, ultimately burning more calories than lower intensity exercise; low intensity exercise burns more calories during the exercise, due to the increased duration, but fewer afterwards.
  • Aerobic exercise stimulates the heart rate and breathing rate to increase in a way that can be sustained for the exercise session.
  • The American Heart Association recommends regular aerobic exercise (30 minutes or longer of exercise on most days of the week) for most people to achieve better health and fitness.
  • Aerobics strengthens the tendons and ligaments that connect the muscles and the bones to each other.
  • There are several types of aerobic exercises which include: dancing, rowing machines, running, cycling, fitness walking, swimming, and the treadmill.

NOTE: Always consult with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program, especially if you are over 40 years, have a pre-existing medical condition, or haven't exercised in a long time.

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