Exercising when you're less mobile

Exercising with limited mobility might be a little more challenging but it is definitely worth the extra effort and creativity. The benefits of improved mood, relieving stress and boosting self-esteem are just some of the great reasons to include movement into your routine and go a long way to creating a happy, healthy life. Sometimes all we need is a little guidance or help to think outside the square and come up with options and ideas that we believe are worthwhile and significant.

First it is important to speak with your health professional to understand what type of movement is suitable for you and if there is anything you should avoid due to your condition. It is also a good idea to ask for their recommendations on how often you should exercise and at what intensity is optimal. It may be that your body requires time in between exercise to recover a little longer than others or you may need to perform exercise at a lower intensity than what others may do. Also discuss with them if there is a requirement for a change in medications if you are taking when exercising. Once you have this information you can then begin to plan your ideal exercise / movement routine by choosing the reasons that are going to keep you exercising even on a tough day.

As with people who suffer an injury and are unable to exercise we can feel low and not bother with exercise as we don’t think we can do enough to make it worthwhile so it’s important to find compelling reasons for us that will inspire us to look for ways to keep moving. When thinking about exercise I like to have people look at it from a movement perspective and consider all the reasons why they might want to move their body in whatever way that is possible for them. An example might be someone on an aeroplane who is confined to their seat but they can move their ankles and knee joints and they may be compelled to move these small body parts to minimise the risk of blood clots.

So however a person may be limited in mobility we can look at some of the important benefits of all kinds of movement and perhaps choose the top 3 reasons that speak or resonate with you and keep these in your mind or pop on the fridge door to use when motivation is a little low, here are some to consider:

  1. Improved mood
  2. Reduce / manage stress
  3. Improve sleep
  4. Boost our immune systems
  5. Tone and condition
  6. Reduce muscle wastage
  7. Improve fitness / breathing
  8. Enhance sense of well-being
  9. Reduce joint pain
  10. Manage weight
  11. Improve / maintain flexibility

After understanding what your goals / compelling reasons to move might be we can then look at options for movement. If you are wheel chair bound there are many great options for working the upper body and often many weight training exercises performed on a bench or seated are more than suitable. A small weights routine could include; seated shoulder presses, side shoulder raises, overhead triceps extension, dumbbell or medicine ball chest presses and a great one to increase heart rate while seated is dumbbell punching into the sky – in fact anything overhead will help elevate your heart rate to help with cardiovascular exercise.

Many people choose to use the swimming pool to exercise as it reduces the risk of muscle or joint discomfort and allows people to move more freely than they might on solid ground. Using flutter boards and other floating devices to support areas where you may have limited mobility could be considered for extra assistance as well.

I am a big fan of using my home to exercise and create a day with more movement rather than trying to get to a gym or other exercise facility and this may work really well for you if you have limited mobility.  Have a look at the areas of your house you use and choose an exercise you can complete in that area so whenever you are there you perform that movement. You could have squats on a chair in the kitchen if you have upper body mobility issues and lunges by your bed for support in the bedroom, some step up’s out the front door if you have or even perhaps look at a mini rebounder for your house to use for a little cardiovascular work and improving immune function which is important for us all. Even going to check the mail form the letterbox we could add a little movement along with some sunshine to enhance our well-being. 

A stationary bike is another great option for many especially if you have upper body mobility issues and there are some that have a lot more support if you feel unsteady here. Using the bike on different resistance levels and different speeds allows for lots of variation and health benefits. 

For those who are limited in the lower body there are some great options still to exercise using hand pedalling machines and these are a super way to improve fitness and strengthen arms and shoulders at the same time.

Whatever you choose to do, please do ensure your safety and health and listen to your body. Stop exercising if you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, or clammy hands and contact your health practitioner if you are concerned. As with any exercise stay well hydrated and ensure you have suitable clothing and footwear for your chosen activity or movement and most of all do something you enjoy and have fun.


Lee-Anne Wann is a fitness specialist, nutritionist, presenter and author. She currently runs a health and fitness consultancy business providing companies and organisations with health, nutrition and wellness solutions and content, she also runs a private nutrition practice and was a television host for TVNZ’s ‘Kiwi Living’.