Extreme Sports Training Reduces Feelings of Helplessness

Physical training for an extreme sporting event can decrease feelings of helplessness in individuals with chronic disability as long as four months after the event’s completion, according to a study from the University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Uncontrollable factors that accompany a chronic disability can cause feelings of helplessness in some individuals. Consequently, they may be less likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors, which can result in poorer overall health,” said Ingrid Kouwijzer, MD, MSc, a human movement scientist at Heliomare Rehabilitation Center in the Netherlands and the study’s co-author. “Fortunately, this can be reversed by interventions targeted at decreasing helplessness, such as adaptive sports participation. Clinicians should encourage their patients with chronic disability to engage in physical activity and provide resources for adaptive sports participation in their community.”

Each year, 12 rehabilitation centers form teams of former patients to participate in the annual HandbikeBattle, a highly challenging handcycling event held in the mountains of Austria. “The training period is free-living, which means that some guidance is provided by the rehabilitation centers, but no specific training regime is provided by the researchers. The rationale is that participants are encouraged to start training and become aware of the potential benefits of this active lifestyle,” Kouwijzer said. For the study, 220 people with chronic disability completed five months of free-living handcycling training followed by a 20.2-kilometer mountain time trial conducted at almost 1,000 meters of elevation in Austria. Researchers measured helplessness using the Illness Cognition Questionnaire and assessed the responses before training, immediately after five months of training (just before the event), and four months after the event.

Participants’ helplessness decreased from their pre-training to post-training periods. These effects did not change from the post-training period to the post time-trial follow-up.

For information about various adaptive sports programs, visit www.livingwithamplitude.com/resource-directory.

This article was adapted from information provided by the Association of Academic Physiatrists.

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