A man and his bicycle.

Council board member Chip Kaufman regularly bikes and works out with his sons.

Getting regular exercise is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For Marcia Swiggum, a Council client, working toward physical fitness is something she can look forward to each week.

“Staying active makes me feel like I am doing something to better myself,” she says. “I have made four lifetime friends because we all exercise at the same gym.”

 A woman stands in her kitchen.

Marcia Swiggum at home.

For people who are blind or visually impaired, there are many ways to get physically active. With a few adaptations, you can exercise in your community, at a gym or at home. (Note: Many gyms are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still many ways to stay active.) The adaptations you make to accommodate for your visual impairment will depend on where you choose to exercise and the types of workouts you want to do. This article provides tips and techniques you can use to start regular exercise, stay fit and have fun.

Movement Outdoors:

One of the best ways to get regular exercise is walking on sidewalks in your community, at a park or on a nature trail. Trails can be cleared paths, some are made of wooden planks or asphalt coverings. All make walking easy to follow tactilely.

Walking with a friend can be a fun way to learn a new trail. Challenge a friend or family member to hike with you on a regular basis.

Remember to carry a cell phone. You can make a call for help if needed, and there are many GPS apps for both Android and Apple devices which can help you find your way home if you get lost. To keep track of hiking trail progress, consider using an accessible pedometer, like the one available for $15 from the Council’s Sharper Vision Store. A smartphone app, Apple Watch or Fitbit can be used to track progress as well.

Rebecca Arrowood, a Council board member, uses her Apple Watch to track her progress when she is on a run. She trains both indoors on a treadmill and outside, and has raced in four marathons so far.

“When I run outside I have a sighted guide with me,” she says. “We each hang onto one end of a tether. This way I can move freely and know I am still running alongside my guide.”

Find Fitness at a Gym:

For Nick Sinram, another Council board member, going to the gym lets him exercise with others. Nick regularly runs, lifts weights and uses a stationary bike.

“People at the gym have been very welcoming,” says Nick. “I enjoy using the equipment and there is a sense of camaraderie, especially if you go regularly. In my experience, employees are happy to orient people to the gym and machines.”

If you become a member of a gym or other fitness facility, you can get a free tour before or after you join. These tours can be a great way to learn the layout of the building and figure out the location of equipment you want to use. Schedule an initial session with a trainer or employee and ask that person to show how to use each machine.

Food For Thought:

For extra encouragement and motivation to exercise, consider hiring a personal trainer. It is a good idea to conduct a short interview with your potential fitness guide before you begin working with them. You can ask questions and determine if this individual is a proper fit for you and your needs. In addition to encouraging you as you work toward your fitness goals, this person can make sure you are using the equipment correctly so as to avoid injury. Your personal trainer can also guide you to available equipment and demonstrate its use.

Exercise in the Pool:

Swimming is a great way to build physical fitness and requires very little equipment. Once you get to a pool with an open lane, you can swim at your desired pace and move freely through the water.

“Swimming is an activity I can do independently,” says Marcia Swiggum. “When I am in my own lane, I can swim without the worry of running into someone else.”

Many local facilities have pools with hours dedicated to lane swimming. Once you find such a facility, go for a test swim. This will allow you to ask questions and explore the facility. Most facilities offer a day pass, so you can try things out before committing to a full membership. If you are worried you may be unable to afford a membership to your local gym or pool, contact the facility and ask about options.

When Marcia learned that the YMCA in her area offered swimming, she initially thought it would be cost prohibitive. She also thought that she would be unable to find a ride to the facility, which is more than 20 miles from her home. Both turned out to be untrue. She has now been swimming once per week for 27 years.

Work Out at Home:

If you would rather pursue your fitness goals in the privacy of your home, consider purchasing some fitness equipment. Treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines are available at a reasonable price and likely take up far less space than you might think.

Before you make a purchase, use the machine to ensure it is accessible. Some equipment has built-in accessibility features. If you own a Peloton bike, for example, check out these instructions to learn how to use the built-in screen reader. For other equipment, adaptations can be made so you can use the features that will help you work toward your exercise goals.

If the equipment has a touch screen, you might place locater dots or tactile markings on the screen or around the edges to find needed controls. Check out the Council’s Sharper Vision Store for some options. While you may be unable to access every feature of the machine, decide if you can access enough to start the machine and do and do a workout.

For sighted assistance to help you become familiar with your new equipment, consider using live visual assistance smartphone apps, such as Aira or Be My Eyes. These are available for both iPhone and Android users.

Chip Kaufman, Council board member, regularly runs both on a treadmill and outdoors, rides both a stationary and outdoor bicycle, and lifts weights at home.

“I enjoy working out with my sons,” Chip says. “We keep each other motivated on those days when exercising seems like the last thing we want to do.”

Make it Fun:

Whether you choose to walk, run, swim, lift weights, bike or do some other activity, find something you enjoy. If you would prefer to exercise with another person, find a friend who also likes these activities. You may be able to encourage each other and keep yourselves motivated.

“Start with what you know,” advises Nick Sinram. “If you are using equipment or doing an activity you are already familiar with, there will be fewer barriers to overcome initially.”

If you would like to brainstorm ideas about how you can make your workout routine more accessible, contact the Council Vision Services team. Call Amy at (608) 237-8107 or email her at AWurf@WCBlind.org. Keeping in good physical shape can be accessible and a lot of fun.

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