How to Exercise with Limited Mobility

We all know about the importance and benefits of exercising. However, this could prove to be a challenge if you experience limited mobility.

It could be due to an injury or illness, or it could be a disability condition that limits your mobility. Weight problems may be a cause too while a large majority of our older population fear falling or injuring themselves if they try to exercise, hence the inactivity altogether.

The truth is, living a sedentary lifestyle is not the answer as it presents equally serious health risks such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and the likes. There are plenty of ways you can still exercise if you have limited mobility – let’s see what you can do.

Some Exercise Guidelines for Seniors

It is worthy to note that health authorities recommend older adults focus on exercises in the following 3 aspects:

  • Cardiovascular: 150 minutes a week – walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, water aerobics. Moderate exercises as such boost the respiratory and heart rate, thereby increases one’s endurance.
  • Strength training: at least 2 days a week – weight lifting, bodyweight exercises. This is to build muscle and bone mass because when your muscles are stronger, the better your balance is and the less likely you are going to fall.
  • Flexibility: at least 3 days a week – stretching and yoga. These will enhance one’s range of motion and again, prevents injury and reduces pain and stiffness. They are particularly beneficial for people with limited mobility because they help prevent muscles from atrophying.

Before anything, it is important that you get medical clearance from your doctor or physical therapist/other health care provider about the activities that are suitable for your medical condition and/or mobility issue. Amongst other questions, find out:

  • What type of exercises can you do?
  • How long should you exercise each day?
  • What are the activities that you should avoid?

What Types of Exercise Are Possible with Limited Mobility?

Yes, it could be tricky but here’s what you can do if your mobility is limited by an injury or disability:

1. Exercise in water

Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water an effective and easier way to work out. That’s because there is less pressure on the joints and water supports the body.

Water aerobics and “aquajogging” are two exercises that you can try to get your cardiovascular workout fulfilled. Look for swimming pools and health clubs that offer pool-therapy programs – often, they offer access for people using a wheelchair or mobility device. With flotation aids, you may even be able to swim.

2. Use resistance bands

This is a good way to incorporate strength and balance training in your daily life. Attach a resistant band to furniture, chair or doorknob and use it for pull-downs, shoulder rotations and arm and leg-extensions.

In fact, you can achieve many traditional upper body exercises such as shoulder presses, bicep curls and triceps extensions – even in a seated position. Substitute resistance bands with dumbbells if you don’t have one, or simply anything that is weighted i.e. bottled water, soup cans.

3. Chair exercises

A lot of people with mobility issues use a wheelchair or mobility device. It doesn’t mean they cannot be active – there are a few chair exercises that one can practice to get their daily dose of cardiovascular and flexibility workout.

Chair aerobics is one of the most common examples. It involves a series of seated repetitive movements that you can easily find online to follow. Alternatively, you may join group classes which makes the whole regime more fun and engaging. Other chair exercises include:

  • In a seated position, air punch with or without hand weights. Nintendo Wii or Xbox 360 offer a series of games that mimics this, so it could actually be fun while you get your workout!
  • Sit with your back straight against your chair and touch the ground with just the balls of your feet and toes. Breathe in and bring one leg up as you breathe out. Stretch it as straight as possible and flex your foot toward you, holding for 1 second. Lower your leg to its original position and repeat in sets of 10-15, alternating each leg.
  • Practice yoga or tai chi in a chair – best to learn in group classes/hiring a private instructor

In particular, people using a wheelchair should stretch throughout the day as it helps reduce pain and pressure on the muscles that come from sitting for long periods.

One chest stretch that you can do is by extending your arms to your sides (palms facing forward) and ease them back. You will feel your shoulder blades moving toward each other – pause and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times and you will get your daily dose of chest exercise, equivalent to that of push-ups. Remember to always plant your feet flat on the floor (shoulder-width apart) throughout the whole regime.

Wrapping Up

While it is important that you incorporate exercise into your daily lifestyle, you should only engage in physical activities that suit your ability and condition. Do not push yourself too hard and stop if you experience pain, nausea, dizziness or generally any discomfort. The workout may not suit you and you should switch regime.

In any case, do not let limited mobility prevent you from staying physically active. It is, however, highly recommended that you exercise with someone else around. This will significantly reduce the risk of an accident or injury and gives a sense of security and assurance, particularly to those who are fearful about falling or otherwise injuring themselves.

If you live alone, consider engaging an in-home carer to provide you just that. Doing so will not only give peace of mind to both family members and yourself, having a buddy to work out with makes the whole regime more fun and easier to stick with, too!

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