Physical activity is a prescription for good health that applies to everyone regardless of health condition or functional ability. The benefits are diverse – exercise can help reduce the risk of disease, strengthen the body, manage one’s weight, as well as enhance the ability to do everyday tasks. This advice regarding exercise is even more relevant when it comes to people living with disabilities. Why so? Studies have shown that they may be up to three times more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, stroke, or cancer as well as up to 58% more prone to obesity compared with individuals without disabilities.
In particular, wheelchair users may be susceptible to a sedentary lifestyle as their wheeled mobility device may limit their involvement in physical activity, they tend to experience challenges such as upper limb overuse injuries as well as encounter barriers that may prevent them from accessing preventive healthcare. It is clear that physical activity can mitigate the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, injuries, and health conditions given the correct kind of exercise as well as the incentive to start doing an activity that is enjoyable.
For safety and optimal results, it is best to consult with a Health Professional such as an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist first before embarking on an exercise program. Go slow and steady at the beginning as an injury can slow down or halt your progress. Start out with a brief training period, especially if you’re not used to exercising or have not exercised for a long while. Then, work up to longer training periods as you get stronger and fitter.
Wheelchair Exercises to improve Strength
Muscle-strengthening physical activities can help wheelchair users better manage their wheeled mobility devices in day-to-day living. Manually propelling a wheelchair entails the use of the smaller upper limb muscles which can easily lead to fatigue. The use of a wheelchair may pose challenges such as rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement, and biceps tendinitis, among others. Prolonged sitting is also associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lumbar lordosis which is an extreme curving of the spine, and tight hip flexors that can lead to lower back pain.
While it’s ideal to gain overall body strength, it is also advisable to pay close attention to several muscle groups that are of special concern to wheelchair users:
- The chest and shoulders – these muscles can become tight from the repetitive pushing motion of propelling a wheelchair, making them prone to injury.
- The back – as the back muscles are not the primary muscles used in maneuvering a wheelchair, these can become progressively weak.
Here are several seated exercises that can boost your health as well as help improve your strength, balance, and coordination:
- Seated push-ups – target the arms, chest, and shoulders. Place your hands on the armrests of your wheelchair, push your body up, and slowly lower yourself down.
- Seated shoulder presses – target the shoulder muscles that support the pushing motion of the arms. Sitting down, hold dumbbells at shoulder level, push upwards, and fully extend the arms. Lower back to starting position.
- Seated rows – one of the best back exercises for wheelchair users. Place resistance bands around a stable object in front of you. Hold the ends of the band with your hands. Pull the band toward your body and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Then, go back to the starting position by extending your arms.
- Seated wheelchair maneuvers – using your wheelchair, push yourself around to help build upper body strength and coordination.
- Seated balance exercises – build up your sense of balance and coordination by leaning forward, backward, and sideways, and holding the movement.
- Seated knee ups – lift your left knee for several repetitions while seated upright in your wheelchair. Do the same with the right knee. This move helps build better coordination, control, and balance.
- Seated leg extensions – using ankle weights, straighten your lower limbs, one leg at a time. Hold at the top of the movement, then go back to the start position. Do several repetitions. Then, switch to the other leg.
You can do these exercises at home using a minimum of tools or in a gym adapted to wheelchair users so you can have access to a wider array of equipment such as free weights, exercise machines, or resistance bands. Take the time to warm up and cool down before and after training. Always observe the correct form when exercising, never sacrificing form for lifting heavier weights or doing more repetitions.
Additionally, you can do adaptive yoga to help build strength and flexibility. This type of modern yoga makes use of poses or asanas that are adapted and made suitable for people with disability or mobility challenges. Adaptive yoga also includes Chair Yoga, poses you can do while seated in your wheelchair.
What are Cardio exercises for Wheelchair Users?
Wheelchair exercises can make cardiovascular activities that raise the heart rate more challenging as compared to activities that employ the larger lower limbs. Still, there’s no denying the importance of cardio exercises to help build endurance and stamina, both of which are needed to accomplish everyday tasks and achieve a higher quality of life. Cardio exercises may also help prevent the risk factor of obesity as well as other chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.
There’s an array of options when it comes to cardio exercises that are available to wheelchair users. Again, it’s best to start slowly and steadily working up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly.
- Swimming and aquatic exercises – the buoyancy of the water helps build strength, balance, endurance, and flexibility while easing the pressure off the body and the joints.
- Wheelchair sprinting – do sprints on your wheelchair outdoors on a track or indoors where it’s safe to do so, with no hazards of slipping or bumping into obstacles.
- Take part in adaptive sports – there are traditional sports that have been adapted for wheelchair users such as basketball, tennis, netball, and badminton.
- Use a rowing machine – inclusive gyms adapted to wheelchair users can let you use rowing machines that can provide excellent cardio training.
The goal of doing cardiovascular exercises is to achieve aerobic fitness, which in turn, is achieved by raising your heart rate for a sufficient length of time. One way of monitoring how hard you have been working is by monitoring your heart rate. Aside from monitoring your heart rate, it is recommended that you also pay attention to how you feel during the exercise. Cardio exercise should be challenging but not overly intense so that you run out of breath, or you have to stop your training out of fatigue.
Get expert assistance and support when performing exercises for wheelchair users
At Healthstin, our well-trained Allied Health Experts are experienced in guiding and supporting people with disabilities, including people who use wheeled mobility devices, in training for better health and well-being. Our Allied Health Clinic in Elizabeth, is inclusive and ready to accommodate wheelchair users. Furnished with both a Hydrotherapy pool and gym space, you wouldn’t have to travel to two venues to get the benefits of water- and land-based training.
Water-based activities such as swimming and aquatic exercises allow you to benefit from water training. The water’s buoyancy reduces strains on your joints and pressure on your body, helping boost your endurance, flexibility, balance, and coordination. On the other hand, training in the gym with resistance exercises can help build up muscle strength. To know more about how we can be of help or book an appointment, call 1300 090 931 today.
The use of wheeled mobility devices may make physical activity challenging; however, exercise is too important to ignore. The health benefits are immense – improved strength, stamina, coordination, and balance – and the advantages don’t stop there. The emotional benefit of feeling empowered and independent whether you’re pursuing adaptive sports or doing tasks of daily living can be incredibly rewarding.