It’s a fact that people with vision loss have a higher prevalence of underlying chronic conditions and lower levels of physical activity.
Qualified exercise physiologists can support people in their strength and improve their balance and overall health. We spoke to Exercise Physiologist Lily at our tactile Exercise Clinic in Victoria Park to answer the question ‘How does exercise physiology support people with vision loss?’
Around 100 clients regularly use the VisAbility exercise clinic, using funds from their NDIS or Aged Care Plan. To begin with, a qualified Exercise Physiologist such as Lily will take a client through an initial assessment to discuss their personal goals and learn more about their overall health, so a program can be developed to suit their needs. They also work closely with our Dietetics Team, who can offer support about nutrition, eating a balanced diet and advice on how to make healthier food choices.
Lily was keen to share five key areas where exercise physiology can support individuals with vision loss.
Achieving a good level of balance can be challenging for anyone with vision loss. Vision plays a large role in orientating the body in space so when vision is taken away it makes it more challenging to maintain balance. This can then pose a higher risk of falls when someone’s balance is not good.
Other factors – like weak muscle tone and joint problems, can further risk the increase of falls.
“Exercises that improve muscle endurance, strength and mobility are also important with balance training to assist in falls prevention and also recovery after a fall. At VisAbility we have a special Falls Prevention Program to help people improve their balance. It’s part of our Adult Group Programs.”
Exercises that will improve balance include:
- Standing on a foam pad
- Practicing a tandem walk where you step one foot in front of another to improve dynamic balance.
- Standing on one leg while receiving support from a wall or bar (or no support if balance is good enough).
- Manoeuvring over a set of small hurdles.
People with vision impairment often lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle with decreased opportunity to be physically active. Lily explains while people with vision loss often need to walk everywhere they often don’t have a lot of other opportunities to be physically active (particularly in the initial stages of vision loss with reduced confidence and skills), so building cardiovascular endurance is important to improve stamina.
“There are heaps of benefits to keeping active. Walking lowers your blood pressure. Research shows it can guard against eye damage while also slowing or preventing the development of macular degeneration and benefit other causes of vison loss, such as glaucoma (link opens in new window).”
Exercises that are beneficial to build cardio include:
- High-intensity interval training – known as HIIT. These are exercises where you build up for a certain period of time, increasing the intensity level, then slow down for a recovery period before building up again.
- HIIT takes your cardio workout to another level as you push yourself out of your comfort zone. It can be incorporated into any cardio workout – whether running using a rowing or exercise machine, jumping, or skipping.
Strengthening exercises develops muscles and improves endurance, posture and mobility as well as increasing muscle mass while decreasing body fat.
“Strengthening exercises are core to building a healthy lifestyle. Muscle strength through exercise goes a long way to improving independent living and quality of life.”
Strengthening exercises include:
- Sit to stands
- Push ups against a wall
- Use a leg press exercise machine to push weights away from you. Resistance helps with muscle development.
- Push and pull type exercises. For example a pull down where while seated, pull the bar to come below your chin, then release it in a controlled manner and repeat.
- Weight lifting. Start with light weights and lots of repetition and build up from there.
Confidence and self-esteem
Exercise physiology boosts confidence, helping people understand movement and actions required for daily life.
For anyone born blind, it can be hard to understand where their bodies should be and the movements required for different tasks. Lily says people with vision loss can struggle to feel confident in their body’s ability, but gaining the confidence to move and become physically fitter leads to greater feelings of empowerment, boosting self-esteem.
“People with disabilities may feel that their body has let them down – exercise proves it hasn’t.”
Sensory Exercise Clinic
The VisAbility Exercise clinic has sensory and tactile markers. At the centre of the clinic is a contrast, slightly raised line, so clients can easily find their way around. This allows clients to have some independence when in the clinic and can move safely and with confidence. It’s a place where people can focus on training and easily communicate with Exercise Physiologists and therapists.
“I love giving people confidence in their bodies. I like challenging them, stretching them to do things they never thought possible,” Lily says.
“My grandfather had Motor Neurone Disease. It’s a rare condition that progressively damages the nervous system leading to muscle weakness and wasting. When I qualified as an Exercise Physiologist, I knew I wanted to work in the disability sector. I feel privileged to witness people blossom and grow physically and mentally at the VisAbility Exercise Clinic.”
In conclusion, there’s many reasons as to how exercise physiology can support people with vision loss. Why not contact us, so we can tailor a plan to suit your requirements? You can receive funding via MyAged Care or your NDIS Plan.
Fill in the form below to make an initial enquiry about the low vision services and support we can provide. We have a dedicated Client Experience Team who will contact you to discuss your individual needs.
If you are a provider and wish to refer a client, please use our low vision medical certificate (online referral form) to make your referral.