A Beginner’s Guide to Exercising with Limited Mobility

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Jan 28 2022.

A Beginner’s Guide to Exercising with Limited Mobility

Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But if you experience limited mobility as a result of an injury, disability, or underlying medical condition, staying physically active can be challenging or even dangerous.

Often, people with limited mobility stop exercising due to fear of a fall or another type of injury. Unfortunately, living a sedentary lifestyle presents equally serious health risks, such as heart disease, weight gain, and depression.

You might use a mobility device like a wheelchair, a walker, or a rollator, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get moving. In this blog post, we discuss the importance of exercise for those with limited mobility, what’s needed to prepare, and how to reduce the risk of injury.

Why is exercise important?

Exercise is important for a variety of reasons. It gets your blood pumping, releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and extends your lifespan. What’s more, regular physical activity helps you maintain a healthy weight, promotes better sleep, and reduces the risk of muscle atrophy.

Beyond the health benefits, exercise can enhance your quality of life and help you gain more independence. When you regularly work out, your muscles are stronger, your flexibility is enhanced, and you’re less likely to trip and fall.

Can I start exercising right away?

Before you start a new exercise regimen, it’s important to get medical clearance from your primary care physician or physical therapist.

Even though all exercise is beneficial, rushing into a new activity without enough preparation, increases your risk of an injury.

During your appointment, it’s important to ask questions like:

  • What types of exercise are safe to do?

  • How does my health affect my ability to exercise?

  • Are there any exercises that I should avoid?

  • How often should I exercise?

  • Is it okay to take my medication(s) and exercise?

Before clearing you for exercise, your doctor or physical therapist considers various factors, including your age, sex, medical history, and current level of physical fitness.

What are some exercises that people with limited mobility can do?

You might use a walker or a wheelchair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your body moving. Regardless of your physical capabilities, most exercise regimens focus on three specific areas –– aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility.

Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping. These activities boost your respiratory rate and help build endurance. Common examples of cardiovascular exercise include cycling, water aerobics, and walking. 

Strength training exercises. Strength training exercises help build muscle. The stronger your muscles are, the better your balance and the less likely you are to fall. Common examples of strength-training exercises include lifting weights, using resistance bands, and body weight exercises (like pushups).  

Flexibility exercises. Flexibility exercises increase your circulation, enhance your range of motion, and reduce stiffness. Activities like these are especially beneficial for people with limited mobility because they can help prevent muscles from atrophying.  

No matter the type of mobility issues you experience, your physical therapist or doctor can recommend exercises that align with your abilities and needs. 

What do I need to start exercising with limited mobility?

Once you receive medical clearance from your doctor or physical therapist, it’s time to start moving. But before you do that, it’s important to gather the necessary supplies, including:

  • A water bottle

  • Comfortable, loose-fitting workout clothing

  • A phone (in case you need to contact someone)

  • A table or another sturdy piece of furniture you can hold onto

  • A first-aid kit (in the event of an accident or injury)

  • Healthy snacks (for a quick blood sugar boost)

  • Plenty of room to move around in

If you need assistance with daily activities like getting dressed, using the toilet, or preparing meals, exercise when someone else is around. Doing so can significantly reduce the risk of an accident or injury.

What are some easy exercises for wheelchair users?

If you use a wheelchair, there are a variety of exercises that can help strengthen your core, upper body, and legs.

This video from Kaiser Permanente features a combination of aerobic, strength training, and flexibility exercises. It’s 45 minutes long, so you’re bound to find something useful. 

What are some easy exercises for people confined to bed?

Unable to get out of bed because of your current physical condition? You can still exercise.

This video from Jefferson Health features 10 easy exercises you can do lying down.

How can someone with limited mobility reduce the risk of exercise-related injuries?

Exercising with limited mobility is just like traditional exercise in that it’s important to warm up. Light stretches, arm swings, or shoulder rolls, can loosen stiff muscles, boost your circulation, and get your heart pumping.

If you experience any discomfort or stiffness during your workout, listen to your body. Instead of pushing through the pain, take it easy. Likewise, it’s important to avoid reinjuring yourself. For example, if you’re recovering from ankle replacement surgery, only do upper body exercises until you’ve completely healed.

Don’t let limited mobility prevent you from staying physically active. We hope you’ve found these insights helpful!

Related reading:

6 Easy At-Home Exercises: Improve Balance and Prevent Falls

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.