Tag Archives: accessible fitness

“It doesn’t need to control you” – Dystonia Awareness Week

James Sutliff is a Personal Trainer and Disability Specialist who has a rare neurological disorder known as dystonia. To mark Dystonia Awareness Week, James talks to us about coming to terms with dystonia and how fitness has helped him focus on moving forwards.

It happened in 2008, pretty much overnight. It was bank holiday Monday, I’d gone to bed as normal and woke up feeling unwell. I felt a bit sick, so I went back to bed and when I woke up my speech was slurred. It worried me but I left it for a bit. I didn’t go to hospital straight away.

When I did go to the hospital they admitted me straight away. Initially, they thought I might have had a stroke but that wasn’t the case. I was in hospital for quite a few days before they discharged me. They couldn’t really find anything, a cause or contributing factor. For a few months I was being seen by a specialist. Then my hands started deteriorating.

So they transferred me to specialists in London who were supposed to be the top guys in neurological conditions. So we went and I did lots of tests and they came to the diagnosis that I have a form of dystonia. We did some research, found out a bit about it.

All this took place over two years. It was very frustrating, there were no answers as to why I was suddenly this way and that meant no treatment. I thought it might just go away, and the doctors did, but that hasn’t been the case.

James, a young bodybuilder with dystonia, smiles at the camera

The condition hasn’t got any worse. It’s just not got any better. I think I manage it better now, but at the start I found it very difficult to come to terms with it.

It’s hard to comprehend because physically to look at me, my disability is quite silent. I don’t generally look like a ‘disabled person’. I’m not in a wheelchair; I don’t have a missing limb. So people are often shocked. They think I’m taking the piss.

Using fitness as a focus

I had always kept in shape through rugby. I really found a focus with fitness. That’s what keeps me healthy – mentally and physically strong. I still do find it hard sometimes. But fitness has helped me to come to terms with dystonia. If I look good and I feel good I forget that I have dystonia.

I’m really passionate about fitness and I came across a scheme called Instructability which is aimed at people with disabilities who’d like to work in the fitness industry and help to train and rehabilitate people who also have disabilities.

Because of the situation and what happened to me, I want to help people who have disabilities and help them through fitness. Fitness has helped me to fight against my condition. It makes me feel better, look better and with that, sometimes when I’m training I forget I have a disability.

James, a bodybuilder, lifts weights in a gym

Dystonia and the future

It doesn’t need to control you. You can manage it and it’s just about finding the way to do that. Don’t let it stop you from doing anything. I’m not going to lay there feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to do something.

Dystonia does have an impact on things and it does make life a little bit difficult but I won’t let it beat me. If you let it beat you, it makes it worse.

Visit James’ Facebook page for brilliant training, dieting and day to day living tips. Scope’s online community also has a number of tips around fitness. Visit our community today and get involved.

Five wheelchair exercises you can try at home

We’ve asked Kris, founder of Wheely Good Fitness, to do a guest blog for us on his top five stretch exercises to help increase flexibility and movement.

Kris is taking part in the Virgin London Marathon 2016 – you can sponsor him online.

For those of us new to exercise or restricted by the side effects of disability and health conditions, starting can be extremely daunting. Many of us will be familiar with the saying ‘use it or lose it.’ So it’s important to try as much as possible to keep what we have and improve where we can, to prevent additional health problems.

One of the first things we can lose is our flexibility. Reduced flexibility can restrict our movements, causing stiffness and aches.  Performing stretches on a regular basis can help maintain and improve flexibility, and can easily be made a part of your daily routine.

Here are five important upper body stretches that can be done at home – you can sit either in your wheelchair or on any chair in your house. For all of them, remember to sit upright, with belly button pulled in tight, feet hip-width apart (if your wheelchair allows it).

Chest Stretch

  • Shoulders down
  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Palms facing forward
  • Arms at shoulder heightMan in wheelchair performing chest exercise with arms outstretched
  1. Breathe normally throughout, with your head facing forwards.
  2. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Bring your arms slowly together in front of your body, so your palms touch.
  3. Keep them straight and at the same height as your shoulders.
  4. Slowly take the arms out to the side, with palms facing forwards, until you can feel a stretch across your chest.
  5. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Back stretch

  • Shoulders relaxed
  • Take the arms forward slightly, rounding the back
  • Head tilted forward
  • Arms out straightMan in wheelchair performing back stretch, with arms stretched forward and head down
  1. Keep shoulders relaxed and avoid rolling them forward as you move into the stretch.
  2. Bring your arms in front of your body, keeping them straight, palms facing down.
  3. Imagine there’s a rope tied around your wrists, pulling you forward, so you can keep extending your arms.
  4. Allow your lower back to round a little and tilt your head down – you should feel a stretch through the lower and middle part of your back.
  5. Breathe normally, and be aware of your balance.
  6. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Upper body stretch

  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Bring the arms up and over the head
  • Head facing forwards
  • Take the stretch up through the bodyMan in wheelchair performing upper body stretch, with arms stretched upwards
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Start with your arms down by your sides, then slowly bring them out to the side (like wings), taking them as high above the head as you can. As your arms reach shoulder height, lift your chest and torso with them and try to make yourself taller.
  3. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds.

Oblique stretch

  • Take the arms out to the side of the body
  • Bring the arms up to shoulder height 
  • Keep upper body fixed
  • Rotate the body to the sideMan in wheelchair performing oblique stretch, with arms bent out to the sides
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Start by bringing your arms out to the side of the body, elbows flexed and at shoulder height. Keeping your arms, head and upper body fixed, rotate to the side using the lower part of your back until you can feel the stretch down the sides of your body.
  3. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds, then switch and do the other side.
  4. Breathe normally, and try not to lean into the stretch or you won’t get the full benefit.

Hand stretch

  • Shoulders down
  • Take the arms out in front of the body
  • Palms facing down
  • Arms out straightMan in wheelchair performing hand stretch, with arms stretched out forward
  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed, avoid lifting them up to your ears when you start the stretch.
  2. Bring your arms straight forward in front of your body, palms facing down.
  3. Extend your fingers and thumbs, widening as much as possible until you feel a stretch through the palm of your hand.
  4. Try to hold the position for up to 10 seconds, then switch and do the other side.
  5. Breathe normally, and keep facing forwards.

Some of these stretches can be adapted into exercise movements that you can perform to your favourite music:

  1. Begin by moving the arms in a gentle marching movement to the beat.
  2. Once comfortable change to a similar move as you did for the chest stretch, gently taking the arms out to the side and back in front again eight times, almost like a wide clapping movement and then go back to marching again.
  3. If you feel able to continue, you can then bring in a version of the upper body stretch by taking the arms to shoulder height and down again, repeating 8 times before going back to the march.
  4. The oblique stretch can then be added in for eight moves before returning back to the march.

This short sequence will give you a little bit of an aerobic workout and you can increase how long you perform it as it becomes easier to do.  Begin gently if only for a couple of minutes depending on how challenging you find it and progress as you feel able.

Kris is taking part in the Virgin London Marathon 2016 – you can sponsor him online.

Health and fitness round-up!

We’ve had a great few weeks discussing health and wellbeing, helping us get into 2015 with a fresh and active perspective. Here’s a handy round-up in case you missed any of our posts. 

Health and fitness tips on the community

We’re really pleased to have launched a health and fitness tips section of our community, which is full of great advice from parents, carers and disabled people. Here’s one from Alex_2014:

“I workout my legs at the gym, and because I have cerebral palsy, it helps me manage it, by strengthening my muscles in that area. I use the leg press and leg extension. I also use a stationary bike, to help with my stamina, as I can get tired easily.”

We’d love you to have a look through and get involved in the conversations, we’re sure you will have loads of great ideas!

Wheely good exercisesFive photos showing a man doing wheelchair stretching exercises

Kris from Wheely Good Fitness gave us his top five wheelchair exercises, which were really popular on Facebook and Twitter.  And if you’re feeling more adventurous then you can step them up a notch to your favourite music.

Transforming perceptions in the fitness industryThree men in the gym with JGFitness clothes

Josh has cerebral palsy, but he’s never let it get in the way. He told us all about the benefits of bodybuilding, how it’s increased his stamina and confidence, and made him loads of new friends. He’s transforming perceptions of disability in the fitness industry and he loves it.

Ask a fitness expert

We had a Q&A with Rob, a disabled sports coach from Active Nation, a national charity committed to ‘persuading the nation to be active.’ If you get in quick he’ll still be able to answer any health and fitness questions relating to disability you might have!

Have a rambleDisabled ramblers - people walking and in motorised chairs

And if all this fitness talk gets you tired, remember that it’s not just about getting your heart rate up. It’s so important just to get out and about into the fresh air – it does a world of good for body and mind. That’s why we recently had a guest blog featuring the Disabled Ramblers, who find alternatives to manmade barriers such as steps, stiles and gates in the countryside that limit accessibility for disabled people.

Need a goal?Someone holding a medal

If we’ve got you motivated but you’d like a goal to get you going, you can always check out Scope’s fundraising events for inspiration.

We’d love to know how your start to 2015 has been going – have you stuck to your New Year’s Resolutions? Has any of our health and fitness information inspired you to get active?