Keeping fit when you can’t see
When I worked in London, I got daily exercise without even thinking about it. I had a 30 to 40-minute walk to the station, which I usually power walked with my guide dog – not really to keep fit, but just because we enjoyed it! Then there was a 40-minute train ride followed by a 10 to 15 minute walk to the office – which was much better after I’d discovered a back way to avoid all the tourists. Seriously, if you go on a city break, please spare a thought for the people who actually live and work there! Some people have places to go and they don’t want to have to fight through crowds of people who won’t let them through. Some of the other pedestrians walked in the busy roads to get round them, but I invariably made the tourists move!
Anyway, apart from days when it was pouring with rain, or snowing, I really enjoyed these walks. Still, over 2.5 hours of travel every day is a lot. I was always happy when I negotiated a working from home day – partly because I didn’t have to commute, and partly because I felt I made much faster progress in my quiet cottage than in the noisy open-plan office.
When I decided to set up my own business, I still took my dog for a walk, but I didn’t miss the commute. However, as my dog grew older, the walks were usually not as long as the trip to and from the station, and I realised I needed to do something more for my fitness.
I decided to invest in an exercise bike. Something that I could put in my spare room and use whatever the weather to make sure I got my daily exercise. Well, buying the bike was the easy bit. I said I’d use it when I had time, which often meant that the free time never came. Planning to do exercise when you have time is a bad idea!
When I moved in with my boyfriend, I brought the bike with me and he brought his cross-trainer. I decided something needed to change in terms of my exercise routine, so I now put it in the diary, like a meeting that I have to attend. Monday to Friday. Every day. It’s ok if the meeting gets put back a couple of hours, but the meeting has to happen! Only then can I click away the Outlook reminder and know that the job is done! This is important to me, partly because I have a desk-based job and no walk to work, and partly because there are some considerations to do with being blind that mean you sometimes have to be a bit more proactive if you want to stay fit.
I’ve heard some positive experiences about blind people going to the gym, but I’ve also heard of people struggling with staff who are not particularly helpful, or machines that are not accessible.
I would rather make the initial investment in the equipment and have it in my own home, where I know that I’ll use it. I don’t use any of the features on the equipment, but there is nobody who will change settings and make it harder for me to use. I don’t have to queue, work out which machines are available, or take time out of my day to get to and from the gym. Ok and I don’t have to listen to anyone else’s music choices either – I listen to my own music or podcasts to make sure I don’t get bored!
As I can’t use the display on either of the machines, I generally do 20 minutes on the bike and 45 minutes on the cross-trainer and use the step counter on my iPhone to measure the distance. I like to use the app from Withings, which is generally accessible, apart from some buttons that I had to label myself. I don’t use all of the functions, but I can keep track of how far I’ve gone each day, which is what interests me.
For anyone who wants to measure their blood pressure or heart rate, the Withings wireless blood pressure monitor is fully accessible because you use it with the app. I think this is a better alternative than some of the talking blood pressure monitors on offer because you can store your activity and your heart and blood pressure measurements in the same place, whereas some of the so-called accessible talking stand-alone devices say in the instructions that you need sighted assistance for some functions.
I did try a device that you put on your wrist instead, but it annoyed me because it didn’t seem to track all of my steps, and I could only read my progress score when I synchronised the device with my phone, which was a faff. I’d much rather check the total going up in realtime on the app. However, if you can see enough to read the screen of the device, it might be ok for you. Here’s the link for the Withings pulse activity tracker.
Last Christmas, my mum bought us a set of York Fitness cast iron dumbbells. I like this particular set because you can change the weight of the dumbbells by adding or removing the metal discs. They come with a set of exercises, which my boyfriend showed me last week, and I plan to include using the weights in my fitness routine – ok, when my arms have recovered, that is!
I think it’s good to do other activities as well. I enjoy going for walks, I’ve been on tandem and canoeing holidays, and I used to do a lot of horse-riding as a child. However I see these things as additions, whereas I need some kind of plan to make sure I get enough exercise whenever I need it, and by doing activities that don’t rely on someone else being available. For me, the exercise regime with the bike and the cross-trainer is the ideal solution.
I know there are many blind people who are interested in sports and who play team games or take part in local activities. I don’t really do this, because I need my fitness plan to fit in with my schedule, and for me it’s about keeping fit rather than finding additional social activities.
I think there are a fair number of blind people who struggle because they haven’t yet found good and accessible ways of keeping fit. However exercise bikes don’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re not looking for features on the electronic display, and when you consider the price of a gym membership, I think they are a good investment. If that is too expensive, finding a friend who can describe exercises and then writing down the exercises is also a good work-around. If I’m away on business and I don’t feel like investigating the hotel gym on my own, I often use these exercises from the NHS fitness pages. However I still think it’s a good idea to get someone to check the first time that what you are doing is in line with the images on the page.
Do you have any tips to add?
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips or resources to add, or share with me what you do to keep fit!
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