4 Workouts for People with Limited Mobility


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
2/17/2010 12:00 PM   :  211 comments   :  171,403 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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  • 211
    These are very good ideas for those with mobility problems. I had to start out very slow but am in better physical shape now so it's getting easier. Still can't do exercises on the floor but I really like chair exercises. - 2/25/2016   5:02:44 PM
  • 210
    Fantastic! Great job! - 2/25/2016   1:49:51 PM
  • 209
    love this, great ideas! you are very inspirational!! - 2/25/2016   9:49:29 AM
    Great ideas! Love your attitude! - 2/25/2016   7:33:02 AM
    Great ideals for great workouts. Thank you - 2/25/2016   4:09:45 AM
  • 206
    I'll always read if it's done by Beth. She's terrific. - 2/24/2016   9:47:47 PM
  • 205
    You are inspiring! :) - 2/24/2016   2:21:47 PM
    I loved this article and I am going to use some of these ideas. - 2/24/2016   12:15:31 PM
    Some good ideas. YOU TUBE has tons of exercise videos which I watch and follow. I also am grateful for the seated Spark exercises. - 2/24/2016   11:55:29 AM
  • 202
    Thank you so very much for this encouraging and helpful blog. You've helped a lot of people today! - 2/24/2016   10:19:00 AM
    Thanks Beth - 2/24/2016   9:26:39 AM
    I am so impressed! Thank you for sharing with your upbeat attitude. - 2/24/2016   3:23:17 AM
    Thank you so much! I am in a really bad rut and need to start somewhere! Please let me know how you're doing on your journey. I need all the motivation I can get :) - 11/28/2015   7:55:51 PM
  • 198
    Glad SparkPeople motivated you and gave you power to help motivate others. - 8/22/2015   10:04:08 AM
  • 197
    This is just what I needed! I'm working on getting on program again, and at 495 I just can hardly get around. I will be using these ideas! Thank you so much! - 8/21/2015   11:08:12 PM
  • 196
    Thank you. This will be very helpful for some of the members on my challenge team. - 8/21/2015   3:36:32 PM
  • 195
    Thank you for this article. I like that it is by a 'regular gal' and not a trainer. Don't miss-understand, I enjoy the articles from the experts too. It is just very inspirational to get good advice from a non-expert who has had some real success. - 8/21/2015   9:56:40 AM
    Thanks Beth it is helping so many people, you are amazing - 8/21/2015   8:06:21 AM
    I am sometimes in a wheelchair and more times on my walker but on a good day I can use my cane. I am able to walk in stores w a cart to stabilize me ...I need to walk or exercise. I got up to 177.2 lbs and I got my sugar down and prevented diabetes meds . This all happened after my accident.. Slipped right off a high back porch to my driveway July 4 , 2014.. I had many breaks in my left leg and smashed knee and tibia is smashed. I can not get a knee replacement due to the damage in leg still. I was first bed ridden a month and then had lower back pain and had two procedures . .I can not stand long so I cook with my wheelchair. Before this happened to me I was going to yoga three times a week and walked a lot and then this happened after a bad surgery I ended up with a bad hernia in my abdomen. Many health problems since I became handicapped. I just have to get my weight under control and prevent diabetes. I can not gain more weight it would be bad on my left leg.... Give me some exercises that I might do without standing on my left leg. .. Thanks. I also loose sleep due to my pain level. But will try to get myself better - 6/17/2015   7:45:12 PM
  • 192
    I have been doing this same thing. I have a broken neck and back and I am on oxygen. I decided to try to do housework from a rolling chair. I have been trying to walk in stores since I found out I burn 300 calories /hour. - 2/20/2015   4:08:00 PM
  • 191
    thanks for the great article. I am going to physical therapy at the moment for tendonitis in my shoulder . very painful . But your right keep moving is the way to go . Do what you can . My friend does breathing exercises and tai chi and laughter yoga .he has all free exercises on the above just type in Robert Rivest laughter yoga he helps many many people all free. - 2/20/2015   3:40:58 PM
    Thank you for putting this blog on SP! I have mobility issues now due to neck pain and about to have 3 level fusion surgery. I am so sick of sitting around in pain and watching life pass me by. I am hoping the surgeon will tell me when i will be able to start some exercising after my surgery. Hopefully i can start soon and pull myself out of the depression i have. Thanks again! - 1/17/2015   1:31:25 PM
    Thank you so much for your article! I just joined SparkPeople today and I was looking through the exercise routines. Since I can't do the exercise routines suggested, I started feeling a bit overwhelmed. You helped put things in perspective. Every little bit of movement helps! Bless you! - 12/29/2014   2:24:12 PM
    As someone who has tarsal tunnel in both ankles and is tipping the scales at over 300.... thank you for this article. - 12/25/2014   10:35:03 PM
  • 187
    I had almost given up on exercise due to knee pain. but reading your article shows me any amount of movement is forward progress. thanks so much - 1/21/2014   8:39:20 PM
    Can anyone give me suggestions. My father has Multiple Sclerosis and he has not walked in over 10 years. He has use of his legs but unable to bare any weight on them. I does leg exercises in bed and his upper body is very strong. I think his issue is with balance and he really needs a therapist that believes in helping him stand periodically and not ruin his hopes of walking someday. Many therapist that have come to our home always say he will never walk again, but I believe with the right treatment he can atleast try and stand up with assistance.
    Also, He is on medicaid/Medicare insurance and they don't usually pay for him to have intense therapy.
    THanks - 1/19/2014   1:58:09 AM
  • 185
    Great article, thank you! - 1/8/2014   5:16:53 AM
    I have MS and I was more than 50 Kgs overweight. I started out like you did and then took a taxi to a feldenkrize class to learn to control my muscles again, slowly but surely. It used to take me an hour to walk 250 meters and now about 12 minutes to walk a kilometer - viva la diferance! Now I do belly dancing, pilates, latin dancing, weight lifting and a lot of walking. I am enjoying every minute of being able to do. Keep up the good work and heathly faithful attitude. LOVED your article. - 1/2/2014   7:13:53 AM
  • 183
    Thanks Beth~you are an Inspiration to me! - 12/26/2013   3:12:50 AM
  • 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

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