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Start small and see the benefits - accessibility and exercise

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Double Paralympian Pippa Britton chats to us about how to get back in the game when trying to improve your health.

Opening a magazine the other day, I was struck by its contents; pages of young, slim models and articles on health. As someone with a disability, I find it really hard to relate to people who have the kind of figure that I can only dream of, and the articles on fitness and healthy eating didn’t really help. I thought to myself: it doesn’t matter what I eat, I can’t do the exercises that are in these articles, and I’ll never look like one of those models.

I thought it was quite sad that I felt that way, because actually being fit and heathy is an individual thing, and I shouldn’t really be comparing myself to others in a negative way. I decided then and there that I would share my experience and thoughts with you, because I am sure there are other people who feel the same as me.

Imagine you are me. I think I eat quite healthily. Don’t get me wrong, I like a pizza or takeaway on a Saturday night and I’m not averse to a glass of wine. But I’m a cereal for breakfast, light lunch, and lots of vegetables with tea kind of person. So, let’s say I want to lose weight. How am I going to do it if I don’t want to diet, or I think diet won’t make a massive difference? I guess I could skip the takeaway, but what you eat is only half of the puzzle. The other half surrounds how active you are.

Double Paralympian and wheelchair-user Pippa Britton smiles at the camera from the field.
Pippa out in her element.


‘Keeping active’ is where the big issue arises, for me and many others. I’m a wheelchair user, and that places a lot of restrictions on what exercise I can do. But actually, you don’t need much physical limitation for keeping active to feel like a challenge. If you have dodgy knees, or a bad back, or any kind of disability, just what can you do?

If you don’t do any kind of activity at all, then the most important thing you can do for your health is to get started. Activities can begin with the really basic, like walking on the spot while you wait for the kettle to boil, or climbing the stairs. You can improvise with weights too, using tins of beans or old milk containers filled with water. But most of all, just get moving in whatever way you can. If you do that every day, you’ll be surprised at how much you can actually improve over time.

I’ll give you an example. In lockdown, I was unable to get outside, and so exercise was very difficult. I started working from home in front of a computer screen, with Zoom and Teams seemingly always connected. I started to feel that I was losing the strength and fitness I’d normally get from pushing my wheelchair. To combat this, I began doing push-ups. Now, before you think, ‘Whoa, I can’t do that’, hear me out. I started upright pushing away from the wall. As time has gone on, I progressed from pushing up against the kitchen worktop, and then to the rail of the bed. Gradually, I’m getting closer to the floor to do the things that regular gym-goers would call push-ups. They’ll never look like ‘the real thing’, because my legs don’t support me in quite the same way, but they are my version – and I’ve improved over time. I feel stronger and fitter, and my core strength is improved which gives me a good base for other things. It may be only one little thing, but it all helps to keep me in a healthy weight range.

Paralympian Pippa enjoying herself at the archery range.
Pippa enjoying herself at the archery range.


My point is this: you don’t need to start doing push-ups, but you need to explore what you can do. Don’t worry if you are not confident - you don’t even need to start your exercising in public. Why not dance to your favourite record – even if that’s my way, by just waving your arms wildly around! 

Do what you can, in any way that you can. Once you feel that you can do something, then we can explore getting out there and joining other people. Try Couch to 5k or take up a sport. As time goes on, you’ll see just how great exercise can be for your physical and mental health, and just how fantastic it is - in a post covid world - to be able to get out there and spend time with like-minded, healthy people. 

More from me soon. Watch this space!

Pippa is an ambassador for Healthy Weight Cymru, a group supporting our ambitions for a healthier Wales. You can keep up with their work on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram