4 Workouts for People with Limited Mobility


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  232 comments   :  302,090 Views

By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

Being disabled or having chronic pain or illness makes exercise difficult if not impossible. Some days I wake up and just want to stay under the covers in bed, where the pain is at its best level of control. That's no kind of life and led me to weighing 460 pounds.

After joining SparkPeople, I learned that short bouts of fitness add up. I started my fitness journey by going to my doctor/nurse practitioner, and they set me up with in-home physical therapy. There are plenty of physical therapy options depending on your insurance coverage. I've done pool exercise, mild gym exercise, total gym exercise, and table exercise. You should see your doctor or health-care professional before considering which option might be best for your disability. Together, you can decide whether you might be able to do some of the exercises at home.

If cost is a concern, it would definitely be cheaper to get a gym membership with a pool than to pay physical therapy bills. A few sessions might give you the basics and you could go from there. Some gyms have very well-trained water aerobics instructors, so do some research before signing any papers. Another way to save money is on the mild gym and table exercise area. A few sessions of therapy can give you the basics, and you can continue to exercise at home. Generally, physical therapists use equipment like exercise bands, stability balls, and very light weights. These sessions also use various standing poses and the table exercises use laying poses to help stretch the muscles. Physical therapy helps you gain strength, flexibility and endurance to go to the next level.

There are indeed other ways to get moving without therapy. The little gadget in the photo above (called an arm cycle or arm ergometer) can be used for arms or legs while sitting. When I had physical therapy, it was one of the machines they had me use to reap the benefits of cardio using only my arms. There are machines of various grades out there, so read the reviews. Some are cheaply made pedal machines, while others are made to give very intense aerobic workouts for people who are undergoing rehabilitation. It's a great way to get aerobic exercise without having to stand.

Amazon.com also has DVDs of bed and chair exercise including aerobics, yoga, tai-chi, and other things to keep workouts interesting and off your feet.

At 460 pounds, these are the workouts I created to get stronger and ready to walk again:

(Remember to consult with your health-care provider before starting these or any workout routines.)

  1. Roller Chair Workout: (Great if you can't walk or stand)

    • Find an open area without carpet.
    • Use a chair with wheels or casters on the bottom.
    • Put on music (optional).
    • Propel yourself using arms, legs, or both around the area.
    • Start at one minute and build your endurance.

  2. Bed Dancing/Chair Dancing/Ball Dancing:

    • Turn on some music.
    • Sit in bed, on a chair, or on a stability ball.
    • Now move! Dance, wave your arms, wiggle your hips, make figure eights, bounce, tap your feet and have fun.
    • These movements will strengthen your body to get up and around better. Try some wrist or ankle weights, or resistance bands to work in some resistance if you want. It's your workout, your fun time.

  3. Hula Hands and Hips:

    • Get 2 Frisbee rings or small hula hoops. (They sell Pilates rings at stores.)
    • Put them around your wrists and try to make them spin in circles.
    • Think wrist/hand hula hooping and you will get it.
    • Likewise, sit on a stability ball and make figure eights with your hips.
    • Hula dance! You can even get your arms in on the action.
    • Both are fun and will get your heart rate up even if you can't stand.

  4. Aerobic and Resistance Cleaning

    • Put on some music.
    • Get your vacuum. Heavier sweepers require more resistance, but the lighter ones get some speed going.
    • Now sweep! If you are walking impaired, the sweeper can act as a support. Move as fast and as much as you can COMFORTABLY, without pain. Aim for one room a day. Remember, any object you push or pull is resistance.
    • When I started this, it took me all day to sweep one room. I would have to rest after 1 minute, but now I CAN do a room!
    • Adapt any of your cleaning routines the same way.
    • Move to the music and amp up your pace.
    • Think of the extra time you save from combining cleaning and a workout.

The point is to move any way you can and get creative! Seek physical therapy if chronic pain and illness are too much and don't miss out on life.

For more information on exercising when you have 100 pounds or more to lose, check out this three-part series: Think You're Too Heavy to Exercise?

How did you get started with exercise? What is your best tip for squeezing it in when time is tight? How did you build up your endurance?

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  • 182
    great ideas. I have had 7 spine surgeries. I learned to walk again in the water. I can walk forever in the water, and not very far on land. - 9/4/2013   7:12:50 AM
  • 181
    Love your ideas. I plan to try all of them. I agree the best thing is to just get moving, and then stay moving. I've been at this for three weeks and already I can see improvement . . . and I'm disabled and deal with chronic pain. It IS possible to exercise not only when you're heavy, but ifyou have problems with disability and pain. Thanks for a great article. - 5/13/2013   1:04:07 AM
  • 180
    These are great suggestions! They may actually work for my mother! Thank you! - 5/7/2013   1:22:46 PM
    This is great. You inspired me this morning. Thanks. - 5/6/2013   7:16:14 AM
  • 178
    I love the idea of hulla hoops for your arms and the bed dancing! Thanks for sharing! - 5/1/2013   1:07:45 AM
  • 177
    Very inspiring! - 4/18/2013   9:44:04 AM
  • 176
    Thank you so much for your blog! I am losing my mobility, range of motion, strength and it is very hard! I know I need physical therapy, but don't have a job and can't afford it. I do belong to the Kroc center and am trying to work on my problem but don't quite know what to do. I don't want to do something that sits be back more, cause I have done that. - 1/30/2013   10:33:20 PM
    this is great thanks so much for sharing - 1/14/2013   5:32:21 AM
  • 174
    Just found this article. My mother has been in a wheelchair with limited use of walker and can for over a decade. I'd love to help her start a chair exercise regimen to help strengthen her...plus I know it will just boost her mood and be something positive she can do for herself. Thanks for sharing these fun tips. - 1/6/2013   7:19:42 PM
  • 173
    Thank you for your inspiring article. Being one with limitations is always a challenge. It is sometimes easier for me to just give up and think of all the things I used to be able to do and can't do now. There's that can't do attitude of mine speaking again. I've been on the yo yo scene so many times, even here on Sparkpeople. This time I am going to try my hardest to make this my healthiest year one step at a time. I have the stability ball, bands and the arm leg tabletop cycle. They basically sit unused since my therapy stopped...it's time I pull them out and re-look at my exercises. I have two beautiful grandchildren (3 years and 8 months) now and get so frustrated somedays when my grand daughter asks me to play with her and all I feel is pain and tell her I'm sorry not this time. Of course she is always happy to play whatever activity I am able to at the time. You have given me hope again. - 1/3/2013   11:48:00 AM
    Thanks for all your expertise based on actual experience. It is so very valuable to me both mentally and physically. You are truly a treasure. - 10/1/2012   1:50:02 PM
    Wow, great article. Thank you. I'm sending on the link... - 9/29/2012   10:55:04 AM
  • 170
    5 years ago I got up from the bed; only to collapse on the floor in excruciating pain in my back and no feeling in my legs. This past after a few moments and I set off for work; only for the back pain to return when I when I started to do my job as a domestic in a local hospital. Then it was a day in bed not being able to move because it would bring pain so bad that that I was often in tears.
    My wife who was already disabled would not allow me to wallow in my misery and pain then called our doctor out who arranged for me to see a consultant the following day. This is when I found out that all my lumba spine was damaged and after a MRI that there were no disc left the keep them apart. The consultant told me that if I was a car he would scrap me as they do not make shock absobers for humans; also that I would have to use a wheelchair within 6 months. My wife who already had been told that she should use a wheelchair said that was not a certainty and I should continue to move under my own power for as long as possible. I did this and beacause I move around as much as possible I have not seized up and work out stiffness throughout the day. My advice is don't just sit there move what you can when you can and don't become a statue or a blob. - 5/9/2012   12:16:22 PM
  • 169
    Beth, since I first read one of your blogs, I've loved your can-do attitude. My own attitude has always been that a "no" just takes a little longer. Telling me or telling myself I can't do something always makes me want to say "Oh yeah?" I laughed and laughed at my first Spark video attempt: "Do WHAT? With THIS body? HAHAHA!!!" But I stuck with it, did what I could, at least kept moving when I couldn't, and now I love the things! - 4/23/2012   9:30:12 AM
  • 168
    I have trouble moving around a lot due to black-out episodes. I am going to try these exercises. Thank you so much for sharing these. I can't wait to use them. I hope it helps me lose more weight. - 1/15/2012   7:33:48 PM
  • SMBS1535
    Wow !!!thank you for telling my story...and providing great ideas to boot...I have been trying to do the leslie sansone 1 mile easy walk but I usually only make it half way...but I am not giving up and will use the tips u suggested...thanks again so glad to know that there are folks out there fighting the same battle as me - 1/7/2012   3:11:47 PM
  • ZAKKIE59
    Great ideas. Thank you. Sometimes just thinking outside the box is the hardest thing to do :) - 11/12/2011   4:09:46 PM
  • 165
    I started my exercise with movility problems with water aerobics. It had been a year and it has work wonders for me. So do not be afraid and go for it!!! Thank you Indy for this blog and all your ideas. - 7/18/2011   5:46:42 PM
    Thanks so much for all this great information.
    - 6/7/2011   1:11:04 AM
  • RONNIE0404
    This is an answer to prayers. I have an arthritic hip and back and am 350 lbs. I walk on the treadmill but can't do longer that 3 min @ a time. I take short breaks and do another 2-3 min until I reach 10 min. That's my limit right now on my feet. Being able to have a cardio work out that lasts longer but doesn't put me in such unbearable pain is a God send. Thanks. - 3/22/2011   12:04:50 AM
  • 162
    Love your tips and I will be trying them. It's hard to find things that don't make me hurt due to RA. Thanks. - 1/7/2011   7:59:56 AM
    great tips! - 11/28/2010   6:52:34 AM
    Thank you soooo much for this blog!!! People seem to overlook the fact that everyone cannot walk or even stand for any period of time! This is very helpful! - 10/21/2010   1:15:45 AM
  • 159
  • 158
    Thanks for your insights. I can walk but not for long periods so this will help. - 7/30/2010   4:51:54 PM
  • ANNETTE0058
    I used to be a runner but now I have 3 slipped discs in my back. I can no longer to strenous exercise so this is very helpful to me! thank you!!! - 4/9/2010   1:07:07 AM
  • 156
    Thank you and God bless. June, aka Soulbug :) Will save your suggestions. - 4/6/2010   1:29:09 PM
  • 155
    Thanks for some great ideas when I am haveing way too much back pain!!!!! - 3/15/2010   5:58:26 PM
  • 154
    I am a walker and well, I am a teacher so i feel I am constantly on the move. However, I still had to add up my stamina to go for long walks. Luckily my neighborhood is like a long oval. It has two streets in the middle that connect the back to the front. I started at walking the small one and then grew to the big one and have now started other laps to my large one. My hubsand and girls have started walking with me and we have started this same strategy. We are not up to walking the big loop as a family but we are on our way. :) - 3/15/2010   12:50:59 PM
  • 153
    Thank you for sharing your ideas. I have chronic pain and it is so difficult to keep going sometimes. I have been pushing myself to do a little every day. It doesn't have to be a huge workout just have to move some each day. I'm glad that there are people who understand you don't have to work out two hours a day to get to where you want to be. - 3/11/2010   8:50:28 PM
    HI Beth,
    You did it. You have inspired me to take action. Small steps but at least moving.
    Today is the day I start my journey. Thanks to you. Keep up the good work. I will do my best, too. - 3/9/2010   1:18:33 PM
  • 151
    Water aerobics is always good. - 3/7/2010   6:38:08 PM
  • 150
    This is a great article. I have tarsal tunnel in my left foot and a bad right knee. I am having trouble walking around the grocery store without my foot burning like its on fire. I have started trying to move more at my desk. In small burts I am exercising arms, marches in my chair and deep breathing. Thanks so much for this article it gives me more ideas. - 3/3/2010   10:43:02 AM
  • 149
    I was in an outreach study for fibromyalgia a few years ago that had a major component of exercise. Though I wasn't sure it would help, or that I'd even be able to do it, I gave it a chance. The exercises were mild aerobics and stretches. It was hard at first. The first 3 weeks I cussed the "study" every minute of my exercises but I persevered. Then, at the end of 3 weeks, I went to the mall! I hadn't been to the mall in years. The changeover from exercising in pain to being functional occurred within 2 days.

    These stretches gave me a 2-yr remission of pain.

    I've found that if I do the stretches in bed in the morning before I get up and while my muscles are still warm, I can walk right away. If I get up without doing my stretches, I have to hold on to things for the first several minutes.

    - 2/28/2010   11:59:13 PM
  • 148
    This is great suggestions. - 2/28/2010   5:04:21 PM
    Very inspirational. Thanks for posting. - 2/27/2010   10:34:21 PM
  • 146
    Awesome blog. Thanks for reminding me that even if I don't feel well, or can't work out for lack of time, etc., there are always small things I can do where ever I am and every little bit counts! - 2/26/2010   7:19:09 PM
  • 145
    When I started exercising, I only walked for 5 minutes a day. Even if you can't walk, the key here is: ANY movement is better than NO movement, even if it's just for 1 minute! (or even 30 seconds).

    Also, don't forget to break it up into chunks, if you need to! Right now, I have a bad foot that can't take my weight for long periods of time. I set a timer and walk for 15 minutes, and then rest it for 45 or so, and repeat the process. I can get in an hour of exercise in, and my foot doesn't ache! - 2/26/2010   9:26:23 AM
  • 144
    Thanks for posting this! I have had knee troubles since I was 12, and I'm now 36. I have to have my knees replaced, but my doctor won't do it yet because he says I'm too young. These exercises are easy to do, and they didn't bother my knees to boot! It's been a long time since I've been able to put those two ideas together in a sentence. Thanks for the great blog! - 2/25/2010   8:41:52 PM
  • 143
    I found some great chair dancing videos online. If anyone is interested, please message me and I'll pass along the site info. They really do work! - 2/25/2010   11:43:20 AM
  • 142
    This was really good info... thanks so much for sharing. Great inspiration for someone like me that's been sedentary fo so long and having knee pain when trying to do certain exercises. - 2/25/2010   9:14:25 AM
  • 141
    Thank you for this article. I can't believe the timing on this. I just finished taking down 3 bags of garbage and I sounded like someone who just finished 3 marathons...they breathe easier than I do! I know I need to do something..it won't be much..but I am going to try! - 2/24/2010   8:55:44 PM
  • 140
    Thanks for sharing, ur doing great keep up the good work
    Val - 2/24/2010   8:11:05 PM
  • NULIFE2007
    Thank you for this inspiring blog. I suffer with my arms, legs and back and thank you for sharing these exercise tips. Good luck in reaching your goal. You have really motivated me to get moving. - 2/24/2010   5:27:28 PM
  • 138
    Thank you for writing this. You didn't give up and that is what impressed me. I am a new member and reading your blog will help to motivate me. When I feel like going back to bed because of pain, I do. I have been to physical therapy sessions and I would rather try to exercise at home than have to pay someone to watch me exercise. May God bless you for sharing. You have a great attitude. - 2/24/2010   3:23:40 AM
    Wow! Thanks for the inspiration. I'm waiting for surgery on my knee and have very limited mobility and suffer extreme pain either standing or walking (even bending). Your exercises will help me a lot! Thanks again and keep up the good work! - 2/24/2010   1:45:03 AM
    Wow! Thanks for the inspiration. I'm waiting for surgery on my knee and have very limited mobility and suffer extreme pain either standing or walking (even bending). Your exercises will help me a lot! Thanks again and keep up the good work! - 2/24/2010   1:44:19 AM
    These were some good suggestions. When I started I was sooo out of shape. My biggest fear was doing something which would leave me in pain later. So I simply started with stretching. I would slowly stretch every part of my body. This would take up to 45 minutes. Now I still stretch and then I walk on the treadmill. Baby steps got me on the road to exercising again! - 2/23/2010   11:59:34 PM
  • 134
    This looks great for those who have trouble with their backs or legs but don't help for those with arm or shoulder limitations. How dowe exercise our upper body? - 2/23/2010   11:24:27 PM
  • 133
    INDYGIRL, I see you everywhere on Spark and thank you for being such an inspriation to us all. I'm so glad to see physical handicaps being addressed, what ever the reason. We all deserve to feel good about our fitness levels no matter what our "barriers" may be and it's these articles that inspire us all. As someone that has worked with Special Olympics, I applaud your efforts. Keep up the inspiration and continued success with your journey. - 2/23/2010   11:15:18 PM

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