The right wheelchair exercises for seniors can improve your daily life by improving muscle tone, bone density, and mood.
Workout moves like these below can help seniors maintain their independence and aid them in leading a healthier lifestyle.
The best part is that little equipment to no equipment – other than a few light weights or resistance bands – is needed!.
Let’s check them out!
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6 Best Wheelchair Exercises for Seniors
Just some quick notes. First, when considering a workout program, always consult with your doctor or a physical therapist to find out exactly which exercises can be safely included in your daily routine.
The wheelchair exercises below fall under the categories of strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance training.
Seniors can either do weighted or bodyweight exercises depending on what is recommended at the level of difficulty that suits them.
Without further ado, here are some of the best-seated exercises available for seniors in wheelchairs.
1. The Upper Back and Neck Stretch
This is a stretching or flexibility exercise that targets muscles such as the trapezius, deltoids, and levator scapulae. All of these are muscles in the areas of your lower back and the back of your neck.
Start here to warm up your muscles for an upper-body workout. Remember to always incorporate stretching or wheelchair yoga exercises into your exercise program.
- Sit upright in your chair with relaxed shoulders and leave a gap between your back and the chair.
- Next you gently stretch both your arms forward at shoulder height and join your fingers.
- While in this position, you then twist your hands until your palms are facing away from your face
- As your palms are facing away from you, stretch your arms forward while rounding your shoulders and back and keep your head upright.
- Stretch forward as far as you can and hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds before you go back to your initial position.
- Next you want to put both of your arms behind you at the open space between your back and the chair. If this is painful, go as far as is comfortable. Remember to stay within a comfortable position where you only feel a gentle stretch.
- Once your palms are pressed together behind you, let your head drop forward to stretch out your spine. You want to make sure while you push your arms down that you pull back your shoulder to give you that nice stretch on the back of your neck.
- Do these exercises each at least 2-3 times for reps of 5-10
2. Tricep Stretch
The triceps are very important when it comes to pushing a wheelchair and it is only right that they be exercised. This is another flexibility exercise to ensure the triceps are never tense.
- Sit upright on a chair, relax your shoulders and leave space between your back and the chair.
- Next, raise your right arm behind your head and touch your left shoulder with your right hand.
- To help assist your grip of your left shoulder, use your left hand to press on your right elbow and deepen the stretch.
- Count up to 10 and then alternate your arms.
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3. Seated Dumbbell Workouts
This is a strength exercise that requires lightweight dumbbells and is one of the best shoulder exercises for seniors as it targets upper body strength in your shoulders, triceps, pectorals, and biceps.
In short, these are great for stronger chest muscles.
There are two variations you can use here.
- First, sit upright with your back away from the chair. Make sure you start with light dumbbells depending on your strength. If it feels to easy, increase your amount of reps before going to heavier weights.
- Raise your arms straight away from you at your side until they are at shoulder height. Keep you core tight for the duration of the exercise.
- Curve your elbows up at an 90-degree angle so that you are lifting the weights above your head.
- Holding your 90-degree angle, bring your elbows together in front of you, stopping just before the weights touch. Hold for a moment and return to starting position.
- Do at least 15 reps.
- Sit on a flat chair seat with your feet flat on the ground. Keep space between your knees.
- Let your right hand drop between your knees holding the weight, while your left holds onto your let knee for support.
- Curl the weight up to your chest, hold, and slowly lower it again.
- Try to do at least fifteen reps on both sides.
4. Seated Hip Abductions
This is a strength and flexibility exercise that targets your lower body muscles such as the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and thigh muscles.
- For this exercise, you will first need a resistance band that you can place around both your knees, joining your legs together. However, it should not be too tight.
- Sit up straight and make sure your feet are glued to the floor. Your hands should be on the side of your chair with your head is facing forward. Ensure your muscles are not tense.
- Now work against the resistance band to separate your knees as far as you can.
- Try for 10 reps in 3 set if this exercise is within your capability.
5. The Seated Chest Press
This is one of the upper body exercises that target the pectoral muscles and helps build those upper body muscles while increasing bone density.
- First, tie the resistance band around the back of your chair and let it circle around the front of your chest.
- Now hold the band with both hands and push it away from your chest until your hands are straight, but without locking the elbows.
- Nest, gently return to your original position.
- Aim for 8-10 reps for sets of 2.
6. Shoulder Retractions
This is a strength exercise that targets mainly the shoulders for stronger muscles in the back.
- Make sure to sit upright with your back away from the back of the wheelchair and tighten your core area.
- Bend your arms at a 90 degree angle in front of you while your hands are facing down.
- Position them similarly as to how you would hold the handles of a motorbike.
- Now stretch your hands forward as far as you can and hold them there for a few seconds.
- Next, push your shoulder blades together as you go back to the bike holding position and make sure to squeeze your back to create tension.
- Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Benefits of Physical Exercise for Seniors
- Helping to loosen joints and and increases bone density,
- Helping to increase strength and flexibility in the muscles,
- Helping relieve stress and anxiety, increasing quality of life and creating a better overall outlook on life,
- Lowering body fat, increasing lean muscle mass, and improve blood circulation,
- Reducing the chances of heart disease through lowering blood pressure and cholesterol,
- Creating better sleep patterns and improving energy levels in everyday life,
- Helping to relieve back pain and loosening tight muscles.
- It is advised to first visit your doctor or physical therapist before selecting any type of exercise because the wrong exercises could lead to injury.
- Stretching is important before and mostly after the exercise session.
- Go easy on the weights as lifting heavy weights can lead to injuries.
- Try to control your breathing throughout every exercises.
- Always make sure your feet are glued to the group so that you hold a stable position.
Exercise for Seniors in Wheelchairs FAQs
What are the best chair exercises?
Some of the best chair exercises include those which can target specific muscles of the upper body such as the triceps, chest, and biceps. These exercises are characterized by simple movements which do not strain the muscles and examples of them are, the bicep curl, the chest press, or shoulder retractions
How can I strengthen my legs in a wheelchair?
Regular movement and daily exercises of the lower body can gradually increase strength in the legs of seniors in wheelchairs. Incorporating lower body exercises such as the chair pigeon pose can help with the gradual increase of flexibility of your legs while using resistance bands for seated hip abductions can improve your thigh muscles.
How to exercise with limited mobility?
With basic chair exercises, you are not required to move your body. Instead, you can target isolated parts that you are able to move from the safety of your chair. You can also tailor the exercise to meet your current capabilities. The trick here is to regularly exercise the muscles that are working and gain strength in them in order that other parts of your body can be gradually incorporated into the routine for maximum benefit.
Chair exercises to help seniors enhance their flexibility, endurance, and strength. With this being said, it can be dangerous to just jump into a new exercise routine, so be sure to consult a physical therapist first. However, once physical exercise does become part of your daily routine, it is one crucial building block in creating a happy life.
- Seguin, Rebecca A, Jacqueline N Epping, M Ed David, M Buchner, H Rina Bloch, E Miriam, and Nelson. 2003. “STRENGTH TRAINING for OLDER ADULTS.” https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf.
- Wheelchair Ramps | Disabled Ramps | National Ramp 2021 (https://nationalramp.com. 2019. “5 Benefits of Exercise for Wheelchair Users | News | Home Access | Wheelchair Ramps | Disabled Ramps | National Ramp | Freedom Now.” Wheelchair Ramps | Disabled Ramps | National Ramp. 2019. https://homeaccess.nationalramp.com/5-benefits-of-exercise-for-wheelchair-users/#:~:text=For%20seniors%20who%20have%20decreased,you%20to%20maintain%20your%20independence.&text=Endorphins%20released%20during%20exercise%20can,stress%20and%20regulate%20your%20sleep..
What wheelchair exercises for seniors have you tried? Please share with us your experience below!
Haley has been working with seniors and their caregivers for more than 17 years. She has held local and national leadership roles in a variety of senior services and senior care agencies. Today, she is a sought after writer specializing in topics for older adults, their family members, and professional caregivers. When she isn’t at her computer sipping coffee, you can find her hiking with her husband, son, and dog or trying a new cookie recipe in the kitchen. Follow her on LINKEDIN. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.