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Cardio exercise equipment features and AT for people with upper body impairment or sensory impairments

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Everyone knows that exercise is good for the body- it improves the mood, manages weight, and also helps with long term diseases such as heart disease and osteoporosis (mayo clinic). Exercise is also important for people who are recovering from various illnesses. Doctors encourage at least 150 minutes of exercise a week to maintain a healthy heart.

With that being said, there are very few cardio exercise equipment and adaptive technologies for stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical. Hopefully, this article can give a few tips on the subtleties of the cardio equipments and how to select ones that assist those with sensory impairments (such as visual impairments and hearing impairments) and upper body impairments (such as fine motor issues and reaching).


Elliptical Machines

Elliptical machines known as more low impact than treadmills. They have foot pedals that move along in a circular motion that combine the motion of a stair climber and a treadmill. Since the feet never leave the pedals, this causes a lower impact. Elliptical machines also have handlebars for an upper body workout that go along the body’s natural crossing motion. There is a huge variance in price of elliptical machines- from the low two hundreds to thousands of dollars. The jump mainly has to do with the user interface of the machine, newer ones with programmable workouts and brightly lit screens.

a long handlebar gives a wide variance of where to grab. Stationary handles gives more stability
a long handlebar gives a wide variance of where to grab. Stationary handles gives more stability

For a person who is has a visual impairment, the new machines has an advantage. Many with visual and tactile feedback on brightly contrasted screens. Also, newer machines have heart rate monitors that are touch sensitive instead of the old bulky clip on. These give a constant feed back to how the user is doing and does not need any small hand coordination.

As of right now, the forms of elliptical machines have not evolved much from their predecessors. There’s not many adaptive technologies to change the use. However the interface has changed. So opt for the ones with a digital interface. Newer models can be adjusted on the keypad so people with low motor control do not need to manually adjust the food pedals or different levels. And finally, what makes a good elliptical is a good display- to see, to monitor, and also to help stay motivated.


The treadmill exercise on the treadmill can help increases strength and flexibility, and reduces joint pain on top of other benefits. Walking on the treadmill can help build bone density and calcium where as an elliptical and their resistance work out the entire body. One of the most important features of the treadmill is the emergency stop. They can vary from different models and can come in a cord or a button. If possible choose the cord since the button can be hard to reach in case of an actual emergency. If the cord is clipped on correctly, the treadmill will stop once the cord is yanked out. Other important features are (or course) the interface, adjustability and the width and handlebars.

contrast and clear interface helps people who are visually impaired
contrast and clear interface helps people who are visually impaired

Adaptive technology is not as limited for the treadmill as with other cardio equipments- there are many safety features updated on newer treadmills and guidelines for treadmills are taken to effect for 2011 (such as start speed, emergency stop, etc). Since treadmills are raised, there are some that come with a step for the ease of getting on and off. More and more treadmills have implemented touch/visual cues and digital heart rate monitors. Newer models also self adjust so people with upper body impairments do not need to do any heavy lifting to get treadmills on an incline.

Life fitness advanced on the universality aspect of their equipment. They have embossed controls and dome switches so there’s tactile feedback for people with visual impairment. Plus their interface is easy to navigate with plenty of built in programs to keep the routine interesting. On top of that, they include a step for the ease of access of getting on and off the machine. (Reducing from the regular 16 inches).

Stationary Bikes

Exercise bikes are making a comeback from the 70s back into the gym. The benefits of a stationary bike are that they help improve muscular strength and endurance. Features on a bike to look for are the handlebars and their adjustability, interface and their programs, and the pedals.

Similar with all the cardio machines, exercise bikes don’t have much variance with the traditional ways of how they work. (they’re a bike). However, new technologies such as touch screens and various programs help people with sensory impairment. High contrast screens give people with visual impairment an easier time reading the dials and handlebars with heart rate monitoring seniors gives an accurate heart rate reading without the complications of a clip. Look for self adjusting machines so that the machine can be tweeked digitally instead of manually.

For example, the handlebars of the Life Fitness exercise bike have the digital heart rate monitoring sensors that can be adjusted to an upright position and a racing position for the ease and flexibility of use.