Advice on Sports and Other Activities for People with a Brain Injury

Brain injuries can be responsible for changing a person’s life beyond all recognition; however, a brain injury does not limit an individual from taking up or continuing in sport or other physical activities. In fact, leisure activities can play a vital role in aiding recovery and social reintegration, as well as improving physical fitness and self-esteem and reducing stress.

While the sorts of activities appropriate for you now may differ from those you were able to participate in before your brain injury, you will be sure to find something that matches your interests. If not, why not take the opportunity to take up something you haven’t done before.

Developing a Hobby

For some people with a brain injury, developing a hobby can be a way of aiding recovery as they assist with memory and cognitive skills, and can provide a social life. The type of hobby chosen should be realistic and not too difficult for the restrictions faced by somebody with a brain injury. Considerations should be made for the following:

  • Restrictions to physical exercise, for example, if dizziness is a problem then cycling could be dangerous, while going for a job might not suit somebody who has problems with fatigue
  • Starting slowly with any mental activities, such as reading, art, puzzles or using a computer, where there are problems with attention or cognition

Here are a few suggestions for hobbies and recreational activities:

  • Photography
  • Writing
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Gardening
  • Reading
  • Walking
  • Caring for pets
  • Cooking
  • Arts and crafts
  • Bowling
  • Chess
  • Golf
  • Yoga
  • Playing an instrument
  • Table tennis

Types of Exercise

Exercises for an individual with a brain injury should be tailored to their needs and abilities while also considering the impact of the brain injury on their body. Physiotherapists can play a large role in helping you find a sport or other activity. Types of exercise include:

  • Cardiovascular exercise - walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or dancing
  • Strength training - squats, lunges, resistance bands or free weights
  • Balance exercises - standing on one foot, Tai Chi or Yoga
  • Flexibility training - stretching, Tai Chi or Yoga

Brain injury charity Headway encourages local clubs, schools, colleges and universities to develop partnerships with their local Headway group or branch. Find your local group or branch here to find out what services they have in relation to sports and exercise.

Returning to Sport After a Brain Injury

Athletes who took part in sports before their injury will be able to return to playing as long as it does not cause new symptoms or worsen any existing ones. Returning to sports should be taken in levels of slow progression to protect the brain and allow it time to heal, and you should only start sport or exercise once you’ve had medical clearance by a doctor.

You should begin with low levels of physical activity, such as walking or stationary cycling, keeping intensity less than 70% maximum heart rate. You can then move into sport-specific exercise, such as running drills. However, there should be no head impact activities and movement of the head and body should be limited to begin with.

As you continue to see recovery, you will be able to progress to more complex training, for example, passing drills in football, and begin resistance training. Following medical clearance, you will be able to participate in normal training activities with supervision before returning to play.

Each brain injury is different, so there is no hard and fast timescale for your return to sport. Make sure you always follow the advice of your doctor.

Finding a Sport or Hobby

Different sports have different requirements, for example, hand-eye coordination for basketball, strength for rugby, and stamina for football. If you’re not sure about what you want to do or what you’re able to do, the Parasport website has a self-assessment form to help you find what sports and activities are in your area and are suitable for your level of disability.

Other useful links to sports and activities include:

Thanks to the success of the Paralympics and its athletes, sport has become much more approachable for people with restrictions. There are many different options out there to cater for a whole range of interests and abilities.

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