3 Best Workouts for People in Wheelchairs

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The CDC recommends that everyone gets 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least five days a week if you want to remain fit and healthy. This applies even to people who have disabilities, such as someone bound to a wheelchair but has considerable use of the upper body.

Individuals who no longer have full use of their legs often exercise upper arm strength to get around, and they can improve their fitness even further and extend their life through suitable physical activity. Then too, differently abled people who use a battery-powered wheelchair should probably be prepared in case their power source dies or needs to be replaced.

If you don’t have the adequate arm strength to get yourself around, you could become entirely dependent on others. Several studies have been published on the impact of exercise on individuals who are wheelchair bound.

A systematic review shows that exercise is worthwhile for toning muscles and strengthening bone density, heart health, blood circulation, posture, and spine stability. You can also increase flexibility and awareness.

Heart health and blood circulation are especially vital for getting around and keeping your muscles aerated. People in wheelchairs are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and circulation issues because they’re constantly sitting.

Good exercise is also an excellent booster of mental health. Physical exertion generates endorphins, which operate as an antidepressant and reliever of stress and anxiety. It raises self-confidence and helps those with disabilities to feel happier and more content with their situation, however limited it may be.

It’s not hard to feel trapped and needy in a wheelchair, but exercise is a great way to express your independence. Here are three exercises that are highly recommended for wheelchair-bound individuals.

1. Resistance Training

Resistance exercises are best for both cardiovascular health and improved mobility. Resistance training is characterized as exercising your muscles through the use of an opposing force, such as dumbbells or resistance bands.

But a great resistance-training regime is to use your own body for weight. Place your chair beneath a pull-up bar, and put on the wheel brakes for stability.

Then use your arms to lift yourself out of the chair. Try to get your head above the bar, and repeat the movement as many times as you can. You may be able to do this only a few times in a row the first day, but over time, you’ll gain strength and work up to dozens of repetitions.

Bicep curls and other exercises with free or bar weights are also useful for boosting arm strength. You should always have a spotter for safety reasons when do these exercises, of course.

2. Ab Workouts

When your abs are stronger, you’ll have an easier time lifting yourself out of the chair and doing simple tasks. This will bring back some of the independence you lost after wheelchair confinement.

If you have use of your body from the waist up, you can do a normal straight-leg sit-up by lying on the ground and using your abs to pull yourself into a sitting position. You can also use free or bar weights, or a resistance pulley machine, to do ab workouts while sitting in your chair.

With the weights or the resistance pulley tucked behind your head, move your body backward and forward as if you were doing a sit-up. The weights will make the workout more effective.

3. Upper Body Yoga

One cannot do every yoga pose from a wheelchair, but many upper body movements can be done for the sake of both mental and physical wellness. You don’t often have to move the lower half of your body for yoga, so once you’ve positioned your legs in a cross-legged position, you can attempt the rest of the motions without having to worry about messing up the pose.

You can also remain in your chair while moving your upper body in different poses. Most of the movements will involve moving your arms, neck, and abdomen. Here are some of the most popular yoga poses for a person who’s wheelchair bound:

Cow pose: This opens your body and stretches your spine. Move shoulders back and down, and lift your head toward the ceiling. Inhale deeply, and try to open your chest more with each breath.

Cat Pose: This is the opposite of cow pose and is great for stretching the spine. You drop your head downward and arch your spine, and breath deeply to expand the stretch.

Twist: As the name suggests, you’ll twist to look over your right shoulder, then slowly twist around to look over your left. Hold each position for three to five breaths.

Hip Stretch: Lift one leg and cross it over your other, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Switch legs after three to five breaths.

Yoga is an excellent activity for flexibility and mental health. As you perform the moves, you’ll become steadily more mindful of your body. This is great for boosting self-esteem and increasing your capacity for health.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, always revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance producer for USA Today, and a contributor at Technorati. She lives in Utah with her 2 kids and husband. Melissa Thompson can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter @melthompson88. Please follow and friend her on either site.