Physically-disabled persons don't need to be sideline spectators to the nation's growing fitness movement. They can join in with some guidance from a series of specially-designed aerobic and strength-building routines that recently became available on videotape.
The six exercise tapes, conceived and designed by the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association (NHSRA), break a technological barrier by showing how wheelchair-bound persons, amputees, quadriplegics and persons born with or developing cerebral plasy can adapt movement to suit their own disability and pace.
NHSRA sees the new exercise program as a possible way to dramatically improve the mental health and physical well being of those with handicaps. According to a 1982 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics, about 22 million Americans are orthopedically disabled or handicapped in some way.
"Whole industries have grown up around the fitness movement," but disabled persons have largely been excluded from either participating in or reaping the benefits that come with better physical health and decreased stress, said Kirk M. Bauer, executive director of the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Association.
"If you have lost mobility in part of your body, you need even more strength and energy to get around," Bauer told a packed room of medical and fitness experts, health lobbyists and recreation program leaders at a press conference called to unveil the "Fitness is for Everyone" program last week.
These tapes should help communicate the message that "fitness is for every member of the family throughout life," said George H. Allen, chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.
Edward Kennedy Jr., a champion skier and sailor who lost a leg to bone cancer as a teenager, said success in sports can help handicapped persons "transcend the stereotype . . . I reject the terms handicapped or disabled because they set restrictions in people's minds."
Too often, Kennedy and Bauer said, disabled persons live lives shut off from active society because they are shunned and/or self-conscious about their disability.
"It's not just the strength a person with a disability needs, but the confidence," Kennedy said.
Bauer, who lost his left leg while serving in the Vietnam War, leads the exercise tape 'Aerobics for Amputees' while Madonna and the Pointer Sisters belt out their hits "Burning Up" and "Jump for My Love" in the background.
On each tape a trained exercise or aerobics instructor works out alongside a handicapped exercise leader with the specific disability the tape is geared to motivate. In some of the exercises on the "Strength and Flexibility" video, an assistant using Velcro tape wraps a length of rubber tubing around different limbs to show how to isolate individual muscle groups and get maximum stretch and lift from body areas not conditioned to movement.
All exercises on the "Strength and Flexibility" tape begin from the head and proceed down the body, so as not to confuse, and all are done in either a sitting or lying position.
Many amputees walk with an irregular gait and need to get their strength back, Bauer said. Other exercises are designed to build up the triceps or upper torso or uncrimp the neck of a quadriplegic and build overall cardio-vascular fitness. Muscles are also statically stretched for gradually escalating intervals to give a safe, effective workout.
All the tapes include safety precautions and ways to monitor progress, said Toledo elementary school teacher Kathy Fensterman, the designer of the aerobic dance routines used on the cerebral palsy tape.
Fensterman said she has used the tapes with the mentally retarded and feels some are appropriate for elderly persons in ambulatory care facilities.
For the last five weeks, aerobics instructor Denise Terry has taught the routines to a pilot class at Rosemary Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring. Many, like Nick Ya Nick Yanischeff, 21, are confined to wheelchairs but find the rapid upper torso movements done to the pulsating beat of top rockers like Sade invigorating.
Yanischeff, who suffered a debilitating spinal stroke while a freshman at the University of Maryland that left him paralyzed from the chest down in a period of 45 minutes, applauds the tapes, saying "it's about time there was something for the disabled." Yanischeff plays tennis and uses a hand cycle during good weather, but said "the class has helped me keep in shape over the winter."
Another member of Terry's exercise class, Jennifer Stern, 10, was a "normal kid" until she was hit by a truck near her Highland, Md., home three years ago. Left with a severe head trauma and cerebral palsy, Jenny has enjoyed the socializing and music as much as the exercise, said her mother, Susan Stern. "We've really noticed the change."
Other area classes are tentatively scheduled for Virginia after more teachers are trained at the Silver Spring site, Terry said.
Conceived in July of 1983 by the NHSRA, and produced with a grant from Invacare Corp., a leading manufacturer of wheelchairs, the "Fitness is for Everyone" tapes can be ordered individually for $13.50 or as a package for about $30 by calling the toll-free number 800-321-5715 or NHSRA at 202-783-1441.
The major drawback of the tapes is that they must be played in a video cassette recorder -- high price tag item -- but NHSRA officials say they hope organizations will form lending libraries for the tapes or start exercise groups for the disabled led by trained instructors. An inexpensive, illustrated manual will also be out soon that can be used alone or with the tapes.
"Everyone knows the real jocks of the disabled world," Kennedy said. "We're trying to reach those who live alone at home and haven't had a chance to get involved."