4 Workouts for People with Limited Mobility


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
2/17/2010 12:00 PM   :  199 comments   :  149,661 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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  • 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
    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
  • 132
    Thanks so much for the GREAT exercise tips! I have been going to water aerobics at the Y, but with the harsh winter haven't gone as much. Consequently my exercise has ceased because I knew I couldn't exercise on land. You gave me some wonderful ideas and a reason to move at home. - 2/23/2010   10:03:48 PM
  • 131
    Beth, you rock! What an inspiration and thank you for the great ideas. I have actually used the machine that you talked about (UBE) for a while between surgeries 3 and 4. I am slowly moving up in the world, I am now 8 weeks into recovery from my last surgery and am now walking with just one crutch. I really liked your ball dance idea and am thinking that now is the time to move my exercise ball into my bedroom. Something I can do for a few minutes after the kids go down for the night.

    Good Luck with making all of your future goals, I know that you will not only meet them but surpase them. - 2/23/2010   8:59:17 PM
    Thanks for the inspiration. I have been working out in a swimming pool close to home and I am looking for options that I can do on the days I cannot get to the pool. I have some ideas from what you wrote and will try them out. - 2/23/2010   5:47:55 PM
    Great ideas.
    Have about 95 pounds to lose.
    As a senior citizen, I have lots of problems with bad knees and bad back, but I found I can walk with a "rolling walker" (with a seat). Have been going about 1.5 miles with 2 brief rest stops. Maybe this idea will help someone. - 2/23/2010   5:34:03 PM
  • 128
    Thanks so much for the great ideas & even more than that, the inspiration! 4 years ago I lost 68 pounds and then found out that I have Lupus. After 3 years on steroids & a multitude of other meds I weighed in at almost 200 pounds (was a size three). With a whole list of medical conditions, chronic pain and upcoming surgery on my spine walking is an achievement! You've given me some hope and encouragement. Thank you so much! Godd luck to you & God bless!! - 2/23/2010   1:54:21 PM
    Beth, thanks for this - I have been going through a period of feeling like giving up on exercize due to pain. And I had been doing so well - half-way to my goal weight = major discouragement. But what you said turned me around. I can just do an easy walk every day and that would be better than nothing or staying in bed all day and feeling sorry for myself. Thanks for your timely words of encouragement. - 2/23/2010   1:37:19 PM
    I like the one about dancing in place! That's especially helpful for days where I just simply can't do much. Thanks for the blog! - 2/23/2010   1:24:39 PM
  • 125
    This is the motivating piece I have read. Thank you! - 2/23/2010   1:19:17 PM
    Thanks for the great ideas. Although I've been told by my doctors that exercise is out because of a bad hip, I will talk with him on my next visit about some of these ideas! - 2/23/2010   11:54:16 AM
  • 123
    Thanks for sharing what worked well for you and how to move with less impact on joints and body. In terms of the stability ball, I've been banned and don't mind that at all. It's always important to check with someone, like a doctor or for me, a chiropractor and massage therapist, on what can and cannot work for your body. Myself, I'm not too heavy to work out, I'm banned because of a back injury, so all I can do is light walking and watching my food intake. I wish this community had a pool even though this time I'm banned from pool activities, down the road I'd love to re-enter the world of fitness through a pool program. Pool for me is the best way to work out. I love it. The vacumming activity you mentioned reminded me when I was in a relationship and his daughter and I would clean house - we'd put on music and dance while cleaning. Great fun, gets the job done and is a good workout too. Tks. - 2/23/2010   11:10:26 AM
  • 122
    Thank you ever so much for sharing. This truly was the kind of information that I needed. Thank you again. There are so many things that I can do. I love it. Again, thank you. - 2/23/2010   10:57:15 AM
  • 121
    This is great. Thanks for sharing. I have my ups and downs with exercising, but I always try to make up movements and keep moving for mobility when I am not in a structured plan. This has some great tips. I will be sharing with co-workers.
    Have a blessed day, and I pray blessings over you as you continue your healthy journey. - 2/23/2010   10:37:13 AM
    Enjoyed your blog. I went to the pool yesterday and I feel so much better for the workout. For my pain, exercise is better than pills. - 2/23/2010   9:59:23 AM
  • 119
    Fabulous Blog! I told my doctor the other day that I wasn't exercising much due to my level of pain... phooey! You have proven that IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, YOU'LL FIND A WAY. IF YOU DON'T, YOU'LL FIND AN EXCUSE! Thank you for the Inspiration! - 2/23/2010   9:52:13 AM
  • SHAN09
    Thank you for illustrating that watever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. It's the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what's right...Choose health!! - 2/23/2010   8:59:24 AM
  • 117
    Thanks so much! Since I joined Spark, I fractured my foot , got better, started to exercise for about 1 month. Now I have cellulitis. I want to lose weight , but I spend more days not exerciseing than exerciseing. I'm definitly going to change my "I can't do it attitude" . I'll be chair dancing today! - 2/23/2010   8:52:34 AM
  • 116
    This is so timely. I'm having work done on my Achilles later this week and was worried about finding seated alternatives to rowing (which is hard for me to do for extended periods). I will definitely try out the arm ergometer at our gym. Thanks for a great article! - 2/23/2010   8:10:39 AM
    Great Blog Beth...you are an inspiration to many. - 2/23/2010   7:20:40 AM
  • 114
    I went from wheelchair to walking, from physical therapy using bands to physical therapy using balls and now walking and using the vacumn cleaner and broom for physical activity. This is a very good blog. - 2/23/2010   7:15:24 AM
  • 113
    Very good blog. I hope to convince my husband to undertake some of your suggestions to improve his fitness level. Thanks for taking the time to post. - 2/22/2010   7:39:15 PM
  • 112
    Thanks for the tips, I am going to share these ideas with my aunt who has difficulties getting around. This will really help her and give some peace of mind knowing that not just I but WE at Spark can help her. Thanks again. - 2/22/2010   10:22:34 AM
  • 111
    ROCKSTAR!!! - 2/21/2010   11:45:22 PM
  • 110
    Thanks for this blog! Many are looking for ways to get exercise in but have pain and/or mobiligy issues! I thank you and many of my fellow team members thank you! - 2/21/2010   10:38:31 PM
  • 109
    Hi Beth!!!! I just wanna say WOW!!! You are a very inspirational person. I hope all is going well for you and I hope your journey is an amazing one. It sounds like you have found the right road. - 2/21/2010   9:58:14 PM
  • 108
    I've had such a hard time trying to lose weight..I cried when I read the part with the vacuum sweeper...It takes me a whole day to do just 1 room, and I remember when I was able to do the whole house in a matter of hours! Being disabled is so disheartening...but a tiny spark buds with your post....thank you. - 2/21/2010   6:40:05 PM
    THANKS, for telling us about new exercises we can do with any kind of limited mobility. - 2/21/2010   9:00:52 AM
  • 106
    This is a great blog Beth!
    ((hugs)) - 2/21/2010   5:56:39 AM
  • 105
    What a wonderfully motivating blog - THANK YOU :) Your attitude is magnificent - do not let the disease win! Keep moving Lady and the numbers will go down :) BTW - the progress you've made already is a motivator! - 2/20/2010   5:27:14 PM
  • 104
    Your a great help in the practical advice you have given. - 2/20/2010   6:19:12 AM
  • 103
    What a wonderful inspiration your article is to all of us who have physical limitations. I gained a lot of my weight after brain surgery, severe fibromyalgia, and ongoing leg surgeries. I have tried therapy many times but never any exercises like the ones you list. I am thrilled that they are so practical and can be done anytime/anywhere. Kudos to you for sharing your story and these great ideas. - 2/19/2010   10:22:54 PM
  • 102
    Hi Beth, What an inspiration you are. I have a lot of pain from arthritis and am not supposed to do weight bearing exercise but I've been doing it and I think my pain is getting worse. But you've shown me that there are alternatives. Thanks to you I am going to try the things you recommend. I salute you, you are some kind of wonderful!! Hugs......Judy - 2/19/2010   8:00:21 PM
  • 101
    Your blog was wonderful. You shared so many ideas for anyone with mobility issues and a wake-up call for those of us who don't. If someone with everyday pain can find ways to exercise there is NO EXCUSE for me. Will be thinking of this blog as I go about my day, with more exercises included! - 2/19/2010   8:59:30 AM
    Beth you have given hope to those people who think they can't do anything about their size. WTG. You are a Spark inspiration. - 2/19/2010   6:50:39 AM

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