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What to Know About Physical Fitness for Blind or Low-Vision People

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 07, 2022

From a young age, people with disabilities are deterred from physical activity. Everyone needs physical activity, though, and a visual impairment shouldn’t prevent you from living a healthy life. 

What Does It Mean to Be Visually Impaired?

Visual impairment describes any vision loss. A spectrum of visual impairments affects millions in the U.S. 

At one end are refractive errors, like nearsightedness or farsightedness. At the other end is blindness.

Low vision falls in the middle. It’s often caused by age-related macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy

The condition is most common in adults over 45. Low vision can include:

  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Night blindness
  • Blurry vision
  • Blind spots
  • Hazy vision

Fitness, Disabilities, and Visual Impairments

People with disabilities like visual impairments are less likely to be physically active. People with disabilities have a 50% greater risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease due to inactivity.

Many barriers prevent people with vision impairments from exercising. Sometimes, the barrier is that they aren’t taught to be physically active as a child and are instead omitted from physical activities because of their disability. 

Anyone, regardless of disability, can struggle to be active because of a lack of time, energy, and motivation. Common barriers for people with a visual impairment also include:

  • Inadequate transportation
  • Fear of injury
  • Lack of helpful resources
  • Difficulty learning new activities

Where to Begin

Some people with a visual impairment can be active just like someone with sight. But most should take some precautions to ensure their safety.

Work with your doctor. Talk to your doctor before jumping into new exercises. Straining, sun exposure, lifting, and other aspects of exercising may adversely affect your health.

Set goals. Plan out what your goals are for exercising. Do you want to lose weight, build muscle, or be healthier? These goals will help narrow your search for an exercise routine. 

Exercise with a friend. A workout buddy can help hold you accountable and achieve your exercise goals. They can also be a safety guide as you start.

Find an instructor. Talk with local trainers at your gym. They can work with you individually to create a safe exercise program for your goals.

Exercises for People Who Are Visually Impaired

Once you’ve decided on your goals, you can narrow down the type of exercise you want to do. 

Cardiovascular exercises. There are various low-impact aerobic exercises to fit your capabilities and needs:

  • Walking or running (on a sidewalk, track, or treadmill)
  • Riding a stationary bike 
  • Body weight exercises like squats, planks, and pushups

Treadmills are a popular suggestion for people with visual impairments. But it would be best if you start slowly to get accustomed to the movements of the treadmill.

Muscle-building and toning exercises. Whether at a gym or at home, lightweight dumbbells, resistance bands, and medicine balls can help you build muscles.

Balance and flexibility. Tai chi and yoga are great forms of exercise to build muscle, improve balance and flexibility, and relax your body. 

Start stationary. Stationary bikes, treadmills, and machines are great starting points for people with visual impairments. A stationary frame provides parameters you can work within and get used to.

Of course, the machines should have accessibility options for you to control the intensity of the exercise. A trainer or a workout buddy can also help.

Fitness Resources for People With a Visual Impairment

One aspect of fitness that many people with sight take advantage of is being able to watch an instructor for guidance. Many workout videos, yoga routines, and fitness apps rely on you being able to watch the forms and positioning. 

Fitness apps. As awareness about fitness for people with disabilities grows, so do resources. Several apps and websites are designed around fitness for people with visual impairments.

For example, some websites create detailed guides to workout routines. They explicitly describe each workout pose through audio or text files, so anyone with a visual impairment can use it.

Trainer for people who are visually impaired. Not every trainer will have experience training someone who is visually impaired. There isn't a certification, but it’s safest to find a trainer who can change their workout structure.

For example, a trainer may need to:

  • Make instructions in Braille for you to read
  • Make a tactual perimeter for your workout space
  • Adapt existing equipment by adding tactile markings

Sports for People Who Are Visually Impaired

Despite the adage “Keep your eye on the ball," sports aren't only for people who can see.

There are many sports for people with visual impairments. If traditional exercise isn’t for you, you may enjoy a sport's competition, teamwork, and activity.

Beep baseball. As the name implies, beep baseball is a form of baseball that uses a beeping ball and buzzing bases. If you don’t have a team near you, you can always try to start your own with a bit of investment, friends who can see to help, and interested players who are visually impaired.

Beep kickball. Like beep baseball, beep kickball uses balls and bases that make audible noise. It’s a recent creation by an Atlanta nonprofit, but you can easily buy supplies and start a team near you.

Goalball. This paralympic sport is a game where two teams of three players launch a ball across a court into the other team’s goal. As a paralympic sport, goalball clubs, teams, and programs can be found across the United States for different age groups and skill levels.

Blind football (soccer). A popular international sport for people who are visually impaired is blind football. It’s been the fastest-growing paralympic sport and recently hit the U.S. in 2018.

You Don’t Lift With Your Eyes

When you’re typically inactive, fitness can be overwhelming. You must consider many factors to guarantee your safety when you have a vision impairment. 

But it’s possible. Fitness can be satisfying, enjoyable, and fun for anybody.

Show Sources

SOURCE:
American Foundation for the Blind: “Introducing Blind Alive and Eyes-Free Fitness: Fitness Is More Than Meets the Eye.”
The Beep Kickball Association: “Recreational Tips.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Common Eye Disorders and Diseases,” “Vital Signs: Disability and Physical Activity — United States, 2009–2012.”
The Chicago Lighthouse: “How Can People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Exercise?”
Cleveland Clinic: “Low Vision.”
National Beep Baseball Association: “Beep Baseball in a Nutshell.”
NCHPAD: “Guidelines for Trainers with Clients with Visual Impairments.”
U.S. Association of Blind Athletes: “BLIND SOCCER,” “Goalball.”
VisionAware: “Exercise for People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision.”
World Services for the Blind: “Physical Fitness Tips for the Blind and Visually Impaired.”

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