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Exercising for Wheelchair Users
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Exercising for Wheelchair Users

Being wheelchair-bound does not have to mean the end of the world, or for that matter, the end of all physical activity for you. With suitable methods and adjustments, you can not only use physical exercise to prevent deterioration in health due to conditions such as muscular atrophy associated with wheelchair sitting, but also improve your existing physical condition and achieve better overall health.

With a gradual increase in the population of the elderly, an increase in the number of wheelchair users is evident and is normal. There are also young people who need wheelchairs owing to injuries or due to some debilitating diseases. It’s only fair that a proper understanding of the situation is provided to all in need, in order to formulate the most healthful and accurate exercise regimen necessary for them.

Choosing the Right Wheelchair Exercises

Depending on the cause of your wheelchair use, it is pertinent to choose the right exercise for yourself. For instance, in case you are wheelchair-bound owing to an injury affecting the lower part of your body, then only those exercises focused on your upper body region would be ideal for you, and vice versa.

Any kind of exercise routine has to start with flexibility exercises, which mostly include light warm-up steps and stretching. This prepares the body for the bigger exercise steps that aim at cardio and strength training.

Stretching Exercises in a Wheelchair

Before starting the heavier routine, warm-up through stretching is always required as it reduces the chance of injury by making your muscles work more effectively and prepares the muscles for further stress in the form of strength and cardio training. Stretching is similar to some light form of cardio movements but is less rapid and the pace is slower. The simple movement of your hands from one end to another, both sideways and back and forth will get your joints moving for better exercise performance.

If the legs can be moved, then stretching the legs by straightening them and taking your hands to your toes a few times can do the job for you. One simple exercise for flexibility and stretching can be done with a PVC pipe or any stick of similar dimension. Hold it with your hands in a wide grip and lift it above your head with straightened hands, and keep it there for a few seconds, then bring it down and repeat the step. You should feel a stretch when the stick is lifted and held there. This simple activity helps in stretching your shoulders and nearby upper region.

Cardiovascular Exercise

The basic aim of cardiovascular exercise is the burning of calories through rapid heartbeats. Once you understand this, it becomes obvious that any activity that increases the heartbeat is a type of cardio exercise: in fact, simply repeated movement of your hands while sitting on your wheelchair can do this for you. Choose any repetitive activity you like doing with your hands, something as simple as rapidly moving your hands back and forth, and that will count as exercise for you.

An example of a simple cardio exercise is the hand-cycling exercise. All you would need to start this exercise is a hand bicycle. Put some pressure on the cycle placed in front of you and gradually increase the pressure, and keep moving the pedals forward with your hands. This exercise will also help in strengthening the muscles involved in moving the cycle, namely your shoulders and arms.

In the event that you happen to live near a gym that has an exercise facility for wheelchair exercise, you can engage in exercise such as arm rowing and bicycling. You may even choose to buy a machine for similar exercise at home, that can be fixed to a table in front of you. Also, there are swimming pools that have therapy programs for wheelchair-bound people, which can be availed of if it suits your exercise needs concomitant with your level of mobility.

Strength Training in a Wheelchair

Most of the time, with manual wheelchairs, the upper body parts, that is, shoulders, triceps and the chest have to be used for wheelchair movement, thus taking a toll on these body parts. Hence, those exercises that strengthen these muscles and body parts are recommended and highly beneficial.

Exercises such as chest pressing can be done by first ensuring the wheelchair is firmly fixed to the ground or one can do it on the bed by placing the equipment in such a way that there is no discomfort as to the positioning of the body is concerned.

You can also do “Lat pulldowns” for building strength. For this, you would need a bar around 3 feet above you and a good quality resistance band with handles. Tie the resistance band to the bar and then start pulling the resistance band towards you and pull your shoulder around your back and move your back muscles inward briefly and then let the band go, and repeat the same.

Lifting dumbbells and other weights can be easily done while sitting in a wheelchair. One must be careful, however, while selecting the weight, as too much weight can be harmful to your condition, so a proper consultation with a health and exercise expert before using weights can be of immense help. 

Injury or ailment specific exercise

As already mentioned, expert advice is indispensable for disabled folks who want to go for lifting weights and other strength exercises. Some types of exercise may do more harm than good for specific injuries or conditions, and it’s vital to one’s well-being that only the right exercise is chosen as part of the routine.

There is also the aspect of injury specific physical exercise that has to be kept in mind. For example, a person who has a disabling injury on the upper body may not be stopped from certain types of swimming exercises or even jogging. Another example of that is a special type of exercise, known as Isometric exercise, which is recommended to those suffering from arthritis, which involves pushing an immovable object or a body part without moving the joints or altering the muscle lengths.

The Real Results Happen After the Workout

This whole article has been focused on how to maximize your time while working out, however the real results fo strength and cardiovascular training happen once the workout has ended. If a workout is 30 minutes a day, the other 23.5 hours are what determine your overall results.

Proper nutrition, diet, and recovery tactics will make all the difference in your long-term strength gains and results. Make sure you're eating enough high-quality calories and protein to facilitate muscle recovery and repair while you sleep.

Speaking of sleep, make sure you have a comfortable mattress that can help alleviate pressure and ensure proper circulation and a good night's sleep. Furthermore, an adjustable hi-low bed can do wonders for those with mobility impairments to help find a comfortable, restful position to sleep throughout the night.

Exercising in a Wheelchair: In Conclusion...

As with most things in life, exercise while being bound by a wheelchair also takes a positive attitude to succeed. Disability does not always have to mean a total lack of physical activity. Sure, there might be things you did before that you no longer can afford to do, but that should not mean discarding any thought of activity within existing limits.

You can start with what you find easy, and then gradually progress to other exercises, What is important is to form a habit of exercising and sticking to a routine. Once you see the results of your efforts, you might automatically start liking your workouts more and more.

Maybe, more than the physical outcome the mental upshot of exercise should persuade more disabled people to take up exercise as a regular activity, for it has been shown that exercise can go a long way in alleviating a person’s mood and can be a stress buster for many, and that’s a good enough reason for anyone to start exercising, more so for the ones under stress and despondency owing to their physical condition.

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