Exercises for the Elderly Confined to Wheelchairs


For the elderly confined to wheelchairs, exercise can be a daunting task. However, there are simple and effective exercises that most wheelchair-bound elderly can do to increase their quality of life. Exercise may be especially beneficial for wheelchair-bound elderly persons who suffer from chronic illnesses. According to FamilyDoctor.org, "Even patients who have chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, can exercise safely. Many of these conditions are improved with exercise." Exercise can increase an elderly individual's strength and combat loss of muscle tissue, making lifting and carrying items around the house an easier chore.

Leg Exercises

  • Some seniors confined to wheelchairs may still have the use of their legs. In that case, the leg muscles should not be neglected. Seated calf raises and seated leg extensions are two simple exercises that wheelchair-bound elderly can perform.

    To perform seated calf raises, begin with your feet flat on the floor. Flex your calf muscles, press the balls of your feet against the floor, and lift your heels off the ground. Return your heels to the floor to complete one repetition. To add resistance to this exercise, hold light dumbbells over your knees.

    To execute seated leg extensions, begin again with your feet flat on the floor. While keeping your thigh against the chair, extend your right knee until the leg is as straight as possible. Hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds, then return your foot to the floor. Repeat on the left side to finish one repetition.

    For both exercises, perform 10 to 15 repetitions per set, and attempt at least three sets.

Arm Exercises

  • Bicep curls and triceps extensions are two easy exercises for an elderly person confined to a wheelchair. Both of these exercises require the use of light dumbbells for resistance. In lieu of dumbbells, bags of rice can be used as resistance. To perform bicep curls, begin with your hands at your sides, each holding a dumbbell, with your palms facing forward. Your arms should be spread far enough away from your body to avoid the wheels of your wheelchair. Lift the dumbbells upward, towards your chest, by bending at the elbows. Keep your back against the support of your chair and do not allow your elbows to move forward. Return to the starting position to complete one repetition.

    To perform triceps extensions, begin by holding a single dumbbell with both hands with your arms extended above your head. Lower the dumbbell behind your back by bending at the elbows until your arms form a 90-degree angle. At this point, extend your arms to return to the starting position. This is one repetition.

    Aim for sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, and alternate sets of these two exercises until you have completed three sets of each.

Core Exercise

  • Core exercises work the abdominal muscles, obliques and lower back muscles. One that can be performed from a wheelchair is the seated oblique crunch. Begin with your feet flat on the floor and your hands on the back of your head. Pull your left elbow towards your right knee by bending and twisting your torso simultaneously. Return to the starting position and repeat the process with your right elbow and left knee. This is one repetition. Aim to complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Be Safe

  • Never exercise alone. Be sure there is someone nearby who can help you in case of an emergency. Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise regimen.

    Take at least one minute of rest between each set of exercises and do not attempt to use any form of resistance that is too heavy for you to control.

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  • Photo Credit elderly couple relaxing in wheelchairs in the sun image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com
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