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How to exercise with limited mobility

Limited mobility doesn't mean you can't exercise. If injury, disability, illness, or weight problems have limited your mobility, there are still ways you can use exercise to relieve stress and anxiety, decrease depression, increase your confidence and improve your quality of life.

If you have become frailer with age you may be worried about falling or injuring yourself if you try to exercise. However, regardless of your age or current physical condition, there are many ways to overcome mobility issues and benefit from the physical and mental aspects of exercise.

Limited mobility doesn't mean you can't exercise. If injury, disability, illness, or weight problems have limited your mobility, there are still ways you can use exercise to relieve stress and anxiety, decrease depression, increase your confidence and improve your quality of life.
How to exercise with limited mobility

Any type of exercise can offer health benefits. Mobility issues can make some types of exercise more difficult than others. Whatever your level of physical function is you should aim to incorporate 3 types of exercise into your routines:

These exercises raise your heart rate and increase your endurance. They can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, swimming or exercises in water. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water beneficial as it supports the body and can reduce pain when moving. Even if you’re confined to a chair or wheelchair, it is still possible to perform cardiovascular exercise.

2. Strength training exercises

These involve using weights or other resistance (eg tin cans from the kitchen cupboard!) to build muscle, improve balance, and prevent falls. If you have limited mobility in your legs, your focus will be on upper body strength training. Similarly, if you have a shoulder injury, for example, your focus will be more on strength training for your legs and core.

3. Flexibility exercises

These help to improve how much you can move, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. They may include stretching exercises, Pilates or yoga. Even if you have limited mobility in your legs, you can still benefit from stretches and flexibility exercises.

To exercise successfully with limited mobility, illness, or weight problems it is important to talk to your doctor or Physiotherapist about which activities will be suitable for you.

Start slowly and gradually increase your activity level.

Start with an activity you enjoy. Go at your own pace and set realistic goals. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain confidence and keep you motivated.

Plan to exercise at the same time every day and combine a variety of exercises to keep you from getting bored.

Stick with it.

It takes time for a new activity to become a habit. Write down your reasons for exercising and a list of goals and put them somewhere visible to keep you motivated. Focus on short-term goals. It’s easier to stay motivated if you enjoy what you’re doing, so find ways to make exercise fun. Listen to music or watch a TV show while you exercise or carry out an activity with friends.

Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up.

Stop exercising if you experience pain

Discomfort, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or clammy hands. Listening to your body is the best way to avoid injury.

Avoid activity involving an injured body part. If you have an upper body injury, exercise your lower body while the injury heals, and vice versa. When exercising after an injury, start slowly and gradually build up.

Warm up, stretch, and cool down. Warm up with a few minutes of light activity such as walking, arm swinging, and shoulder rolls, followed by some light stretching. After your exercise routine (whether it’s cardiovascular, strength training, or flexibility exercise), cool down with a few more minutes of light activity and deeper stretching.

Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it is properly hydrated.

Wear appropriate clothing, such as supportive footwear and comfortable clothes that won’t restrict your movement.

As well as physical challenges to exercise you may also experience mental or emotional barriers to exercising. It’s common for people to feel self-conscious about their weight, disability, illness, or injury and want to avoid working out in public places. Some older people also find they are fearful about falling or injuring themselves.

Don’t focus on your mobility or health issue

If you are scared of injuring yourself when exercising, choose low risk activities such as walking or chair-based exercises. Always make sure you warm-up and cool- down correctly to avoid muscle strains and other injuries

Instead of worrying about the activities you can’t enjoy, concentrate on finding activities that you can.

The more physical challenges you face, the more creative you’ll need to be to find an exercise routine that works for you. If you used to enjoy jogging or cycling, for example, but injury, disability, or illness means that they’re no longer options, be prepared to try new exercises. With some experimenting, it is possible you’ll find something you enjoy just as much.

Be proud when you make the effort to exercise. Even if it’s not very successful at first it will get easier the more you practice.

How to exercise with an injury or disability

People with disabilities or long-term injuries tend to live less-active lifestyles, it can be even more important for you to exercise on a regular basis.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults with disabilities should aim for:

At least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity cardiovascular activity (or a combination of both), with each workout lasting for at least 10 minutes.

Two or more sessions a week of moderate- or high-intensity strength-training activities involving all the major muscle groups.

If your disability or injury makes it impossible for you to meet these guidelines, aim to engage in regular physical activity according to your ability, and avoid inactivity whenever possible. Remember, limited mobility doesn't mean you can't exercise.


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