Are you a person in a wheelchair who thinks that there ought to be more information aimed towards getting disabled people fit and healthy? Daily life is challenging enough as it is, but instead of making your life more complicated, a creative and effective exercise routine can help make life more enjoyable! It can give you more energy and make daily activities easier to perform. Aerobic exercise, resistance training and stretching strengthens your heart and lungs, improves mobility and can increase upper body strength.

Before You Begin an Exercise Program

Before beginning an exercise program, it is important to get the green light from your doctor. If you are taking any medications, ask your doctor how they may effect your body’s responses. For example, some drugs may reduce sweat rate, so you may overheat more easily. Also consult with a trainer who has experience in working with people with disabilities to plan for your program.

Exercise is an excellent way to help you cope with a disability. Not only will it make you stronger, but studies have shown that exercise helps you feel great about yourself.

Get Your Heart Pumping

Woman using tabletop hand bike

Woman using tabletop hand bike

Getting your heart rate to increase past your resting heart rate (the rate at which your heart beats when you are doing nothing) for at least 30 minutes a day, will make your heart, veins and blood vessels stronger. Not only that, but doing aerobic exercise burns fat, lowers your blood pressure and improves your mood.

To burn calories and improve cardiovascular fitness, a number of options exist. Tabletop hand bikes, which have pedals designed for your arms, can be used indoors or outdoors, depending on the model. These bikes can enhance the strength of your upper body. The outdoor models are the ones physically-challenged athletes use to compete.

Take up a Sport

Wheelchair Track and Field: Road Racing

Group sports are another great way to burn calories and have fun at the same time. Wheelchair rugby, basketball, track & field, tennis, table tennis, wheelchair archery and swimming are some of the sports you can do to get your heart pumping, improve your hand-eye and muscular coordination and be active and social at the same time. Search online or through your local community centre, to find sport-specific groups or associations that are geared towards people with wheelchairs.

Lift Some Weight

Wheelchair weight lifting

The things you are able to do depends greatly on your range of motion. Depending on your abilities, engaging in strength training for the upper body can be very beneficial. This will help build lean muscle mass, expend more calories, reduce your chance of injury and condition your body for sports-related activities.

Use resistance bands (large, stretchy rubber bands), secured to a door handle, pole, hook or even the arm of a wheelchair. Depending on the exercise, you can pull the band towards or away from you, to work muscles. Resistance bands generally come in low, medium and high resistances.

You can also work out with free weights or fitness machines if you have access to a gym. To learn about resistance training exercises that are geared towards people in wheelchairs, elicit the help of a personal trainer. Together with your trainer, you can come up with creative ways to modify exercises, so that they are safe and effective.

In general, to perform wheelchair exercises safely and effectively:

  • Warm up 5 to 10 minutes performing large muscle activities such as laps.
  • Use proper posture.
  • Start with a light warm-up weight and perform 20 repetitions, then increase the weight gradually between sets, so that you are doing 12 to 15 repetitions.
  • Breathe – exhale as you lift, inhale as you lower weights.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat a light meal or snack at least 1 hour before exercising.
  • If you feel faint – stop or take a break.

Stay Flexible

Senior Wheelchair Stretching

Stretching, which increases flexibility and eases stress and fatigue, is best performed when muscles are warm after working out. When stretching, hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, and stretch each muscle group two times.

Since many wheelchair users experience shoulder stress and posture problems, stretching your shoulders and neck is important. This can be accomplished by bringing your ears to your shoulders and rolling from side to side or by chin-tucks. Arm-lifts and torso side-stretches increase flexibility and reduce the fatigue that can result from pushing your chair. When lying down, stretch your arms above your head to stretch your back muscles.

Getting involved in regular exercise is an important factor in reaching your weight control goal and improving your health. Choosing activities that you enjoy will help keep you motivated to stick with your fitness program. Pick options that burn calories, as well as, maintain or increase muscle mass.

Press on toward your goals, and after four to six weeks, your body will grow accustomed to this new activity and you’ll see what a difference the right exercise can make in your life.