Health center for people with disabilities

Whether it is participating in an exercise class, or pumping iron, the benefits of being active for people with disabilities goes a long way towards improving their health. The Health and Fitness Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is a busy place.

"We have 350 members, and then 30,000 visits, which averages out to about 120 people coming through the door a day," said Mitch Carr.

Carr is the health center director. He says this is a unique health club customized for people with physical disabilities.

"For example, our upper body strength equipment, all have swing out seats which allows that individual that is a wheelchair user to not have to transfer. It's safer and it's a more efficient work out that individual," Carr said. "If you look at our aerobic pieces, they either have swivel seats for easy transfer, or the chairs completely come out which allow again that user to not have to transfer."

RIC's Health Center has been opened for 12 years.

"There are certain populations that do have some options, some are through the conditions, YMCA and those type of places have classes that would cater to those, but the overall physical disabled population have very few options when it come to health and wellness," said Carr.

That's why Joseph Murphy comes to this club four times a week. He sustained spinal cord injuries 2 1/2 ago.

"I love this gym because it's all adaptable, so you can work your whole body, your upper body, you're cardio in here, and it's really friendly for my disabilities," Murphy said.

Exercise classes at the fitness centers are designed for specific disabilities. There is an aerobic class for people with arthritis. Jocee Wolf is fitness coordinator.

"If someone can't do an exercise, we'll tell them, 'okay, here's the alternative you can do.' We always set things up in levels and intensities for those who can only perform limited movements, we'll give them an easier exercise but advanced for ones that can move more," Wolf said.

Wallie Wigoda is 84 years old. She has arthritis in her joints and has been coming to class for almost 7 years.

"Because it keeps the body parts moving and I think it helps me," Wigoda said.

"Knowing what this program does for individuals...those people that have been here for over a decade, those are the people that put the smile on the face, because each and every day they come they're coming for a purpose and you're seeing the benefits," Carr said.

Carr hopes other clubs will make their facilities more accessible for people with physical disabilities. To join RIC's Health and Fitness Center, members are required to have a medical referral and pay a yearly maintenance fee of $30.

More information:

Phone: (312) 238-5001

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