There are plenty of reports online, singing the virtues of aerobic exercise, running and pilates if you’re over 50. This is, of course, great if you’ve still got full mobility. But if for any reason you have reduced mobility or struggle to move around so freely, these types of exercise are probably off-limits to you.
This can leave you feeling alienated; wanting to stay fit and healthy but unable to. However, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways you can maintain good levels of health and fitness, whatever your range of movement or natural ability.
The Importance of Staying Fit
There are many reasons why it’s worth focusing on staying fit. It improves muscle tone and stamina, and can help to reduce joint pain and stiffness. Many reports suggest that regular exercise can also lengthen your life and improve your mood, alleviating the symptoms of depression.
According to the NHS, if you’re over 65, you should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, plus muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week.
Here are a few ways you can keep fit, even if you’re in a wheelchair or unable to move around freely.
Great Ways to Stay Fit if You Have Reduced Mobility
- Engage in more gentle activities. If you don’t relish the prospect of attempting to take on an aerobics class or energetic run, try a gentler activity, such as yoga or Tai Chi. Fitness expert Ben Coomber says: ‘Yoga and Tai Chi can be very helpful for older people, as they help to increase flexibility and improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls.’ Even if you’re in a wheelchair, you can still do upper-body stretching and yogic breathing to work on your core muscles.
- Strength training. Invest in a set of weights, and use them for a workout. If you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll be able to focus on your upper body strength; whereas if you have a shoulder or arm injury, you can focus solely on your abdominal muscles or legs.
- Swimming and aqua aerobics. Any form of exercise in the water is very well suited for those with reduced mobility, as the water naturally supports the body, reducing impact upon the joints and muscles. Aqua jogging is also a very effective way of staying fit.
- Never underestimate how beneficial a brisk walk can be. If you’re unable to walk very far, just aim to walk frequently, but for short periods of time; for example, two short walks per day. This will help to keep your muscles active and toned, and improve overall fitness.
Tips for Wheelchair Users
While being a wheelchair user may rule out some forms of exercise, it certainly doesn’t mean you have to give up on your physical fitness. Exercise is important if you want to maintain your health and wellbeing. It also energises your mood, relieves stress and improves your self-esteem. There are plenty of ways you can overcome your physical limitations and fit some beneficial physical activity into your routine.
Cardiovascular exercise raises your heart rate and makes you warm enough to break a sweat. When walking and running up and down stairs aren’t part of your day-to-day routine, it can be easy not to get enough cardio, but this type of exercise is important for the health of your heart and lungs. Try to do some of the following activities:
- Swimming: This is a great form of exercise for wheelchair users because it gives you a full body workout while the water supports the majority of your body weight.
- Using a rowing machine: There are rowing machines adapted for wheelchair use – simply find your nearest gym which has one. You could even invest in your own to use at home.
- Wheelchair sports: Find local wheelchair sports groups you can get involved with. Basketball, netball and badminton are all popular options.
Manoeuvring or pushing a wheelchair can put a lot of strain on the muscles in the upper body. They can become tight and prone to injury, while the back muscles which are not involved in the pushing motion can become weaker from lack of use.
Because of this, it’s helpful to focus on exercises that work the smaller muscles that support the pushing motion, such as the shoulder muscles, while strengthening the back muscles by doing exercises involving pulling motions.
Try performing shoulder presses, bicep curls and triceps extensions using weights. Resistance bands can also be attached to furniture, such as a doorknob, and you can use these for pull-downs, shoulder rotations, and arm and leg extensions.
Anyone starting an exercise routine should ease into it, starting slowing and gradually increasing activity levels. Start with an activity you enjoy and keep your goals realistic and manageable, as this will keep you motivated and help you gain confidence.
Don’t be discouraged by challenges – everyone experiences ups and downs when trying to get into an exercise routine. It takes a while for physical activity to become a habit, but focusing on short-term goals should help you stick with it until it becomes a solid part of your day-to-day life.
Remember, you should stop exercising if you experience any pain, discomfort, dizziness, nausea or an irregular heartbeat. You should also avoid working out an injured body part.
Pay attention to what your body can handle and don’t push yourself too hard. Drink plenty of water, as your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated, and wear comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your movement.
If you want to learn more about activities that are right for you, try using the Parasport self-assessment wizard. You can also use the English Federation of Disability Sport website to find local gyms with facilities that are suited to people with disabilities.
Effective Exercising with Reduced Mobility
Always remember to stay hydrated whenever exercising, and make sure you don’t push yourself too hard. It’s more effective to build up slowly than it is to over-do it and injure yourself!
Many people benefit from keeping an exercise diary, which helps to document just how much exercise you’re doing each week. It can act as powerful motivation when you can see how you’ve improved over time.
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