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According to Statistics Canada, about 20.6% of individuals 65 years and older have a mobility disability. While wear and tear naturally occurs over time, even just a few minutes of physical activity a day can help you live a healthier and happier life.
And yes, you can participate in physical activity even if you’re wheelchair-bound!
Luckily, there are various ways to move and strengthen different areas of the body, leading to many health benefits. In this article, we’re going to explore the importance of exercise, even for those with limited mobility, and how you can continue being active with limited movement.
The Incredible Health Benefits of Regular Exercise
It’s no secret: The human body thrives with movement.
As with anything, it’s all about doing not too much but not too little. In fact, experts recommend about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. This equates to about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Ensuring you move enough supports your health in various ways, including:
- Improving brain health
- Enhancing cognitive function
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing the risk of chronic diseases
- Strengthening the joints, bones, and muscles
- Improving sleep
- Decreasing pain
- Boosting one’s mood.
At Corydon Physiotherapy, we work alongside various individuals with limited mobility. The truth is that it’s entirely possible to remain active, even with certain limitations. So, let’s take a look at exactly how you can do this and how you can continue to get the most out of your life.
How Can I Exercise If I Have Limited Mobility?
Inevitably, the type of exercise you perform depends on the limits of your specific mobility. The good news is that there are many options. Whether you’ve experienced a recent injury or you require the use of a walker or wheelchair, it’s still possible to move and strengthen your entire body.
The general rule of thumb is: Do the best you can, and start where you’re at.
When first diving into the world of exercise, focus on keeping everything ultra-simple. Move where and when you can, finding small opportunities to move just a little bit more.
Before beginning any exercise program, you should discuss your options with your doctor. Depending on your health and mobility limitations, they may recommend you work alongside a movement specialist to ensure you perform appropriate exercises safely. This may involve working with a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist.
It can also help to join exercise groups that cater to mobility limitations. This can also help you meet others going through similar difficulties. It further makes it much more fun when you have friends to move with! For example, many community recreational complexes offer aqua classes, which are often suitable for those with decreased mobility or pain.
No matter what type of exercise you perform, always make sure you start with a light intensity and load, slowly and gradually increasing your pace or time. Ensure you warm up and cool down after each session.
Generally, cardiovascular, or aerobic, activity is anything that increases your heart rate and breathing, contributing to improved endurance. Some examples of cardiovascular activity include:
- Water aerobics
As previously mentioned, many individuals experiencing mobility limitations find water aerobics to be one of the best forms of cardiovascular activity. This is because it supports your body and your joints, which decreases discomfort and pain. This means you can strengthen your body, without the usual stress of gravity.
Alternatively, many individuals also opt for stationary cycling and walking, depending on your limitations.
Strength training is important for building strong muscle and bone mass. Whether you’re sitting or standing, you can use weights or bands to strengthen various parts of your body. Alternatively, everyday objects, such as water bottles, can also function as weights.
Generally, you want to perform about two to three strength training sessions a week. If you have limitations in your lower body, you might focus more on upper body and core strength. If you have an injured shoulder, you might focus on lower body and core strength, as well as strengthening the areas around the shoulder.
If pain occurs at any point during exercise, stop and adjust your form. Only go to the point before pain. If the pain continues, it may be best to try again another day or book a visit with your local physiotherapist.
You might wonder, “What exercises improve mobility?” Again, this may depend on your specific mobile limitations. However, there are various types of exercises that can help you maintain and improve your flexibility, potentially even helping you overcome your mobility issues.
Find ways to stretch your body. Many stretches have different options, such as ones that can be performed in a chair or bed.
Flexibility exercises can further help you perform everyday tasks, such as bending to tie your shoelaces or making stairs that much easier to tackle.
Some common flexibility exercises for individuals with mobility limitations include:
- Chest Stretch – Sitting in a chair, extend your arms out to either side, with your palms facing forward. Gently pinch your shoulder blades together and you should feel a stretch through the front of your chest. Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
- Neck Stretch – Sitting tall, gently bring your ear down to your shoulder. If you need to, use your hand to gently pull your head down further. You should feel a stretch on your opposite side. Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
- Hamstring Stretch – Sitting in a chair, prop one leg up on another chair right in front of you. Gently lean into your leg. You should feel a stretch on the back of your thigh. Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
- Towel Shoulder Stretch – Hold a towel in your right hand and bring it behind your head, allowing the towel to hang. Bring your left hand behind your back and grab the bottom of the towel. Gently pull slightly up with your right hand until you feel a stretch on the left side. Hold for about 20-30 seconds.
Other Tips & Tricks
What else should you know? Here are a few last tips and bits of advice:
- Start slow. It’s okay to start with once or twice a week and gradually increase it.
- Avoid exercises with the injured body part, unless advised to do so by your doctor or another healthcare professional.
- Drink plenty of water when performing exercises.
- Wear appropriate clothing for exercises, such as loose and non-restrictive shirts and pants.
- Stick with it. Expect there to be some weeks or days where you feel more motivated or better than others. Make a plan. Put it in the calendar. And know it’s okay if you go off track occasionally. These things happen. As long as the majority of the time you’re on track, you’re good to go!
- Find exercises where you can have fun. These are the best kind since you’re more likely to stick with them.
- Consider low impact exercise options for previous exercises you did prior to injury or your limited mobility issues.
At the end of the day, you can still participate in regular activity, no matter what your physical limitations are!
At Corydon Physiotherapy, our team is here to help you improve your health and obtain a better life. We’re movement experts, and we have the tools, resources, and knowledge to help you get back into a safe and regular exercise routine. Book your appointment with us today!