More MS news articles for February 2000

Some health club obstacles

Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Inaccessibility deters people with disabilities from using many health clubs, says Mark Major.

So he started one of his own. Major, a quadriplegic, opened the non-profit Exercise Center for the Physically Challenged near San Francisco last fall. By December, it had eight regular customers. There's no membership fee, but the center eventually may adopt a sliding-scale fee. Volunteer health-care and adaptive fitness professionals evaluate clients and help them use adaptive fitness equipment designed for people with limited strength and flexibility. Several centers of its kind are scattered throughout the country.

"You would never get that kind of assistance in a regular gym," said Major, 39. He became disabled after he fell out of a tree at age 15.

Crowds, cost and inexperienced trainers can make it uninviting to join a gym if you're disabled. Clutter is another issue. Small equipment left on the floor hampers wheelchair users and others with limited mobility.

Another complication: "You'll spend more time acquiring equipment or putting it back than you do on your workout," said adaptive fitness trainer Ted Cibik, who owns Inner-Strength Inc., a health, wellness and martial arts center in Leechburg.

People don't avoid health clubs altogether because they have handicaps. I see another person or two with disabilities (including a woman in a wheelchair) on most visits to the busy spa where I use the pool (water workouts are good when you have cerebral palsy, as I do).

How do you find a good gym?

Visit the place a few times before you join. Note the layout and atmosphere.

Look for steps or ramps. Can a wheelchair maneuver comfortably?

If you have vision problems, check the lighting.

Check the temperature. Excessive heat can cause multiple sclerosis to flare up. Irregular temperatures may be hard to take if you have a neurological disorder. Note the air quality if you have a lung condition.

If you have balance problems, is there a bar or wall to hold onto while you exercise or change clothes?

Ask if there are trainers familiar with your disability. If so, how much time can they spend with you? Tell class instructors that you may have to adapt their routines to your abilities.

Trainers may be afraid that you'll get hurt while exercising. Some may be too helpful. Take their advice with discretion, Cibik said.

Once you find a gym, use it during off-peak hours. It will be less crowded and staff may have more time to assist you.

-- Patti Murphy