How People Living with Mobility Challenges Can Stay Fit

Seniors in physical rehabilitation therapy with trainer


May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. This is a good reminder that remaining physically active is essential to our overall health and well-being. But what if your ability to be active is limited due to a chronic health condition? What can you do to stay fit?

The good news is that there are exercises that even those living with certain painful conditions can do with little to no discomfort or pain. In fact, exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen bones, increase flexibility and ease joint pain. Here are just some of the exercises that help people living with limited mobility.

Tai chi

We’ve discussed the benefits of tai chi before. Tai chi is an excellent form of movement that almost everyone can participate in, including those in wheelchairs. An article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that tai chi helped those living with osteoarthritis, COPD and heart failure show improvement in four areas: a six-minute walking test, muscle strength, the time it takes to get up and move, and quality of life. The best part? These results were accomplished without any pain while performing the exercises. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people living with fibromyalgia who participated in tai chi classes twice a week for 12 weeks reported less pain than the control group, who participated in stretching sessions and wellness education twice a week. According to another study in the same publication, tai chi was particularly useful in improving balance in people living with Parkinson’s. The study randomly assigned nearly 200 men and women with mild to moderate Parkinson’s into three groups – one group did strength-building exercises, one did stretching and one did tai chi. After six months, the tai chi group were stronger and had better balance than participants in the strength and stretching groups. Most importantly, they had fewer falls.

Range of motion/flexibility exercises

Like tai chi, these exercises can be done by nearly everyone and can help relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints with less pain. For those with more mobility, this may include stretching exercises and yoga. For those with limited mobility, it may include simple seated exercises such as moving your neck from side to side and front to back, reaching your arms across your chest, raising your shoulders toward your ears, etc.

Strength training

Lifting weights or using resistance bands helps build muscle and bone mass, improve balance and prevent falls. For those who have limited or no mobility in their legs, upper body training still provides benefits.

Aerobic exercises

Aerobic exercises include any activity that raises your heart rate. It includes walking, swimming, cycling, and tennis, just to name a few. According to a study published in Neurology magazine, brisk walking is one of the most effective exercises to help ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s. The research indicated that those who walked quickly enough to raise their heart rate improved both their movement symptoms, such as rigidity, as well as fatigue, depression and cognitive difficulties. For Parkinson’s patients, a special form of boxing, called Rock Steady, has shown some promise. Of course, those living with Parkinson’s should be cleared for any kind of exercise by their doctor to ensure they are minimizing their fall risk. Many people with mobility issues find exercising in water especially beneficial as it is often less painful and the water supports the body, often making it easier to move and decreasing – or eliminating – any risk of falling.

Daily activities

Not all exercise has to be a formal routine. Gardening, walking the dog and even cleaning the house can all be forms of exercise.

Before starting any exercise routine, be sure and talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to “prescribe” a routine that will work for your particular condition or situation.