Wheelchair Exercises for Elderly with Limited Mobility

Wheelchair-bound seniors need special exercises to stay fit and active. Traditionally, the word exercise paints a very physical picture. But it’s not a rule for exercises to be physically tiring or heavy. A lot of sitting activities and movements qualify as great exercises. In this article, we’ll be talking about several such exercises that help improve the body’s stability, balance, and core strength when done regularly.

Wheelchair exercises for the core and abs

The core’s strength is very important in old age. A solid core allows you to stay confident while doing day-to-day tasks. Here are some exercises for training your core while in the wheelchair.

Side bend stretches

Stretches are very easily one of the best exercises for improving the body’s balance and stability. The side bend stretch is as easy as it’s painless.

  • Sit high with your abdominal muscles contracted.
  • Reach up with your right arm.
  • Keep your shoulder close to your ear.
  • Move your upper body to the left, curving it.
  • Hold in this position for 10-15 seconds.
  • Go back to the center position and repeat on the other side.

Tummy twists

Tummy twists are a favorite of many. They are fun, easy, and can be done multiple times throughout the day from the comfort of your wheelchair.

  • Sit upright and tighten your abdominal muscles.
  • Hold out your hands and make a 90-degree angle with them so that the elbows are at the sides and the forearms are extended in front of you.
  • In this position, rotate your body to the right as much as possible, “twisting” it.
  • Hold in this position for a few seconds.
  • Twist back to the center while maintaining the arms’ position and twist the other way.

Throughout this exercise, keep your lower body as stationary as possible and your back straight.

Wheelchair exercises for the chest and arms

Chest and arms are second in priority. You can use resistance bands to amplify these exercises. A strong chest is vital to stability whereas training arms help you in performing daily tasks with ease.

Chest presses with resistance bands

Go very slow and steady with chest presses, any abrupt motion isn’t recommended. Exhale when returning back to the original position.

  • Wrap the band around the wheelchair, right below your shoulder blades.
  • Grasp both the ends of the band and hold out the arms.
  • Make 90-degree angles with the arms – make sure your palms are facing down.
  • Pull the bands as far away from your body as possible.
  • Hold the stretch for as long as you can. 2-5 seconds is the usual duration.
  • Slowly come back to the original position and repeat.

Shoulder retractions

Shoulder retractions can also be done with resistance bands. Beginners aren’t recommended to use resistance bands in shoulder retractions. With time, as your ease of doing this exercise improves, you can go for a resistance band. Here’s the basic process:

  • Sit upright and move your hands out in front of you.
  • Make 90-degree angles with your hands at the shoulder level.
  • The hands should be closed in a fist and facing downwards.
  • Pull your elbows back up until the point when they’re close to your torso.
  • Go as far as possible, then hold, and return to the original position.

Wheelchair exercises for the legs

Legs are critical for good health. To make sure the upper and lower legs stay fit and active even though you’re in a wheelchair, we have assorted a couple of great exercises for you. Keep in mind that if any of these exercises cause you pain, then it’s not the right fit for you.

Knee lifts

Knee lifts can feel tiring at first but don’t worry, they become easier with time. Knee lifts are very beneficial for the upper leg as they stretch and relax your leg muscles.

  • Sit upright with tightened abs.
  • Place your feet comfortably on the floor.
  • Lift the left leg up, bending it at the knee.
  • Only bend as much as your leg allows for. With time, stretching will improve.
  • Lower the foot back slowly and return to the original position.
  • Repeat the same movement with the other leg.

Toe exercises

Exercising your toes might sound unimportant, but as a result of the stretching and relaxation, toe exercises can be hugely beneficial. A lot of veins and muscle groups are expanded and contracted during a toe exercise. As a result, the variety of motion improves throughout the lower leg.

Toe exercises are simple to pull off. All you need to do is tap.

  • Sit upright, tighten your abdominal muscles, and place your feet comfortably on the floor.
  • Tilt both your toes up, then back.
  • Repeat this process several times.
  • The speed doesn’t matter, only the number of repetitions does.

Thigh squeezes

Inner thighs are important for upper leg activity. Thigh squeezes are one of the best wheelchair exercises for elderly people aimed at improving mobility. This requires a ball.

  • Sit on the edge of your chair.
  • Keep your posture straight.
  • Bend your knees, placing the ball between them.
  • Squeeze the ball with your knees.
  • Hold in the squeezed position for several seconds.
  • Release the ball (without dropping it), and repeat.

It’s okay to place another soft object like a pillow or even your first between the knees instead of a ball. If you go for a ball, choose one that’s neither too big nor too small. Foam ones are better than inflatable ones.

Final thoughts

Many of the exercises listed above are easy to do and comfortable. What’s key in these exercises is the number of repetitions and the duration of the intermittent holds. It’s completely okay to start with 5-10 reps and holds of 2-5 seconds only, especially in the more taxing of the exercises, but with time, you should increase both the intensity of the exercises as well as the number of repetitions.

These exercises will become fairly easy to do with time, at which point you’re recommended to do these with resistance bands.