When you are abled it can be difficult to motivate yourself to want to exercise but when you are abled it’s not physically challenging like it is for the disabled community. Many workouts routines are not accessible for disabled people and we have to be careful with our workouts because certain types of exercises can aggravate our conditions. I have a condition called Hydrocephalus which is when there is too much cerebrospinal fluid (basically blood) going into your brain. Usually, this fluid helps cushion your brain but if there is too much it can put extra pressure on your brain causing damage and if left untreated be fatal. There is no cure for Hydrocephalus and the most common treatment for Hydrocephalus is to get a device called a shunt put in your head that will help drain excess fluid to other parts of your body. When you have Hydrocephalus exercise is possible and for most people, you can do it the same way as someone without the condition but there are still challenges whether you have just that or a physical disability on top of that. I exercise because if you are able you should but it has never been easy since I have this condition. In this post, I am going to talk about how I stay active and exercise while living with Hydrocephalus.
Limit neck stress exercises- People often think I am weird for preferring abdominal workouts over strength training because most people would rather do strength training any day of the week. Arm and core workouts are both fun to me but I hate working arms due to the fact I have shunt tubing in my neck and it doesn’t take much for my neck to get tense and for it to be uncomfortable. When you’re working your core you don’t usually feel it in your neck unless you are doing exercises incorrectly and using your neck muscles instead of your abs which I don’t usually have a problem with because my trainer has taught me well. When you do upper body workouts it’s hard to prevent this because weights naturally will make your neck tense without even trying. I do a lot of weight lifting exercises but to accommodate my condition you will see me do most things sitting down, on my knees or laying down because it’s easier to find exercises that don’t put a lot of emphasis on my neck. I don’t do exercises like shoulder shrugs or arms circles with weights because it creates too much neck tension and if I wanted to do that I would do it weightless! I can’t really do a whole lot of exercises standing up even if I wanted to but if I could I probably wouldn’t because it’s easier to limit neck stress when your sitting.
I don’t lift extremely heavy weights– Lifting heavy weights can help you get results faster because you will fatigue faster and won’t need to train as long but when you have Hydrocephalus it might not be the best idea to lift the heaviest that your body can handle. I like to lift reasonably heavy weights because it’s easy to turn weight lifting into cardio which can be hard when you have a physical disability but I have not always trained that way. In the beginning of my fitness journey, I did not start with lifting heavy weights but began with just five pounds and slowly progressed to where I am now because I would not have made the progress I have if I decided to train heavy from day one. Start with light weights and then as you get stronger slowly ease your body into slightly heavy ones. You can train heavy when you have Hydrocephalus but in order to avoid pain and a possible medical problem, you have to be smart about it. I get neck tension when I strength train and always will but because I train smart and do slow progression it’s nothing serious. Never underestimate the power of a seated shoulder press or bicep curl because something so simple can give you great results and if it’s too easy do some pulses or add more reps. As a disabled person, I will never be able to get the muscles that most abled people have because I can’t train in the same way as them so I don’t have vanity goals. The whole point of fitness should be to improve your strength and be healthier not to change your body to make it more beautiful because you already are.
Try reistance training- The power of body weight exercises such as Pilates and Yoga often are underestimated because people assume it’s not going to be challenging since you don’t typically use equipment and it seems like it would be. If you do bodyweight exercises properly they can be just as challenging as lifting weights and in my opinion, some bodyweight exercises are more difficult than dumbell exercises. When I first started my fitness journey I did not use dumbells and mainly stuck to bodyweight movements because I was out of shape and couldn’t. At first I was a little skeptical with how much resistance training can do for you because many resistance exercises look easy and was I was not convinced that it would help improve my strength so I was surprised with how much it did. If you are new to exercise or get a lot of neck tension because of Hydrocephalus your best bet may be resistance training. There are so many different types of bodyweight movements that it would be next to impossible to run out of things to do. I like to weight train because I think it gives you the fastest results but I also am a huge fan of resistance training and it makes up most of my routine. I love doing exercises like planks and arms circles because they are both super effective and require zero equipment to do them. Never underestimate the power of resistance bands and planks because it will get you every time and is great if you have chronic pain where weighted exercises are a trigger. You can always add weights to resistance exercises but in my experience, most exercises don’t need it and I only add weights to resistance exercies if I feel nothing and want more of a challenge.
Move more around your house- Some people with Hydrocephalus have a physical disability but not everyone does and for some people, it’s the only disability they have so never assume everyone with Hydrocephalus is physically disabled because that is so far from true. If you do have Hydrocephalus exercise will be difficult but if you also have a physical disability it will be twice as hard. If finding an accessible routine is like an act of Congress try and find ways you can move more around your house. Get up and walk or roll around your house and dance to your favorite songs to burn a few extra calories. You may not be burning as many calories as if you were doing a weighted routine but it’s still movement because some is better than none. Moving is still difficult for me because I still don’t have flexibility in my hip from my most recent hip replacements surgery so I am not as active as I was before surgery but I am doing what I can by walking more and incorporating strength training into my weekly routine.
Hydrocephalus affects about eighty percent of people with Spina Bifida but you don’t need Spina Bifida to have Hydrocephalus and it can happen to anyone. Some people with Hydrocephalus do not have a physical disability and can exercise pretty much the same but when you do there are more challenges. Be smart when you are exercising and don’t pick up a fifteen-pound dumbbell if it’s your first time working out because it’s dangerous towards your health and that is how injuries happen. Listen to your body and if you are doing an exercise that is causing a lot of neck tension then stop doing it and choose something else. Everyone experiences occasional neck pain but when you have Hydrocephalus it’s different because it can be a sign that you are having a shunt issue and you shouldn’t ignore it. It may be nothing but if you ignore neck tension you could set yourself up for clog and not be able to turn your head for several days without severe pain. Headache or migraines are more common when you have Hydrocephalus and is more difficult to get rid of them than if you didn’t have this condition so you want to be aware of your neck pain because that can trigger attacks. You wouldn’t want to trigger an attack that could have been avoided, would you? You can’t control the fact you have this condition but you can listen to your body so you don’t trigger pain and exercise is more enjoyable! Do you struggle to stay active while living with Hydrocephalus and how do you exercise?