For Kids Who Have Disabilities, Keeping Active Means Keeping Healthy
Jersey Berqual is only 4, but already she wants to keep up with her dad.
That’s a tall order, because he’s a marathoner. And Jersey has spina bifida, which causes weak muscles, a lack of sensation in her legs, and other effects.
Nevertheless, she’s so energetic that she once wriggled out of her leg casts.
Activity Equals Better Health
The Berquals know that physical activity is important to Jersey’s long-term health. They are looking for a running stroller or adapted bike to help Jersey take part in her dad’s training runs.
“But we want her to have her own options, too,” says her mom, Marissa. That’s why Jersey swims, goes to adapted playgrounds and hopes to start adapted skiing next winter.
Regular activity results in better balance, mental health, and fitness. But many people who have disabilities don’t get enough exercise. Obesity rates for children who have disabilities are 38 percent higher than for other children. And adults who have disabilities are three times more likely than others to develop heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Social Benefits, Too
“The importance of sports and recreation goes beyond physical health,” says Krista Ash, therapeutic recreation specialist at Gillette. “Things like biking and adaptive sports give kids and adults opportunities to be social with their family and peers. That’s huge.”
It’s never too early to start looking for ways to keep kids active. Options might include walking, wheeling in a manual wheelchair, swimming laps, doing water aerobics, or playing adapted basketball, tennis, softball or other sports.
Krista touts the benefits of adapted bicycles, saying that to date she hasn’t worked with a patient who couldn’t benefit from one. Teenagers and adults can get involved, too. “Once a mom came to an adapted bike information session with her adult child, who uses a wheelchair,” Krista recalls. “She said to him, ‘I’m so sorry that you can’t ride a bike,’ and I immediately told them, ‘Absolutely you can!’”
To Learn More
Gillette can help you find resources in your community for beginning or maintaining a physical activity program. To learn more:
- Email Recreation@gillettechildrens.com.
- Call Krista Ash or Beth Harmening at 651-312-3138 (for patients 15 and younger)
- Call Kaitlin Lewis at 651-325-2213 (for patients 16 and older).