We are aware that exercise is good for our physical health; it improves our aerobic capacity and physique, increases muscle size and can add years to our lives.
However, exercise is also just as important for our mental health and wellbeing. It promotes changes in the brain, such as neural growth, reduces inflammation and stimulates new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing.
Exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts and can help relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), trauma and other mental health conditions. It can help you feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, improve your memory and feel more relaxed and positive.
When you lose your sight, it is normal to suffer a drop in confidence in doing things you once enjoyed like exercise. You may be fearful about engaging in physical activity and worry about getting injured. Activities like running or swimming may seem impossible now and you may be reluctant to ask for help or advice. You may want to go to the gym but feel unsure of how you will use the equipment or how to get changed or shower. You may wonder if you can use your cane or bring your guide dog.
These are normal feelings and concerns but it is good to know that many people with sight loss are able to continue to exercise and enjoy a number of sports with adjustments and support; you may even discover a new activity that you have not previously considered.
It is important to be aware that leisure providers are legally required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable visually impaired people to use their services. For example, if you would like to use a gym, a member of staff could help guide you around the equipment or provide a discount for your support worker. If you are feeling self-conscious or vulnerable in the locker room, there should be a disabled facility to enable you to get changed safely and in private.
Many people with sight loss may initially not have the confidence to exercise with others or are reluctant to leave the house. If so, British Blind Sport has an online library of accessible, audio-led video workouts to help keep you active and healthy in the privacy of your own home.
If your feelings surrounding your sight loss are preventing you from exercising or you need more help in building up your confidence first, perhaps it may be helpful to talk about it with a counsellor.
Talking to others with sight loss who share the same feelings about exercise and sport will help build your confidence. RNIB run Talk and Support befriending social groups for adults with sight loss, and Living Well with Sight Loss courses by phone and video call to enable you to share your experiences with others, and get practical advice, information and resources.
There are organisations that challenge the external barriers to sight loss and aim to make sports and outdoor activities as accessible as possible. Sometimes special equipment is required, a different setting or adapted rules. These organisations can offer advice and support, and enable you to meet other people with similar interests:
The Sightline Directory can also provide information and contact details of organisations that provide accessible sport and leisure activities for those living with sight loss.