How to modify a workout when you have limited mobility

If you have a physical or cognitive disability, you can still become fit by modifying your workout routine.

How to modify a workout when you have limited mobility

Editor's note: Consult your doctor before beginning any new workout program. If you feel pain, stop immediately.


Many people find it difficult to keep up a regular exercise routine. It can be difficult to fit exercise into your weekly schedule if you have a chronic illness, disability or injury. It's still important.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults with disabilities have a three-fold higher risk of developing serious health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, than those who do not have disabilities. The CDC states that regular aerobic exercise can help to lessen or even prevent the effects of these conditions. However, almost half of adults with disabilities aged 18-64 do not engage in it.

Lalitha McSorley is the owner and head physical therapist of Brentwood Physiotherapy Clinic, located in Calgary, Alberta. She said that regular exercise has many benefits, including better overall health, improved strength and endurance and improved mobility.


Regular exercise can help manage symptoms of some disabilities. Exercise can help reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis and improve cognitive function for people who have cognitive issues. A consistent exercise routine can also boost your self-esteem, and help you to engage in social activities and the community.

The World Health Organization will release the first global guidelines for physical activity in 2020. These guidelines are designed to help people with chronic diseases and disabilities, such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, stay active. The guidelines are similar to the US Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans: You should perform 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week or a combination of the two. You should also perform muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

Consider these exercises if you are limited in your mobility

Your specific health condition will determine which types of exercise you should do. Bishnu Das, a certified trainer in Kolkata, India, says that swimming, walking and water aerobics are all good choices. Some seated exercises include hand cycling and chair exercises, with or without any weights.

Das suggested that chair exercises could be as simple and easy as power punches where you alternately punch your arms out in front of yourself, or alternating legs kicks which involves holding the chair to support you, then alternating leg kickings. Even torso twists and rotations can be beneficial. Use your arms to assist with rotations.

Dr. Heather Swain is a physical therapist in Toledo, Ohio. She enjoys activities such as pool running and water aerobics. Swain explained that aquatic exercises help people become more mobile because of the reduced gravity. It can be inspiring to watch your body perform movements that you could not do outside the water. Hydrostatic pressure in the water helps to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation.

Swain believes that yoga is a great option for those who don't have access to a swimming pool. It is also often overlooked. She said that yoga can maintain flexibility and stability, regardless of your skill level. This reduces the risk of injury. The breath work also benefits pelvic and back health, mental health, and cognitive function.

Movement helps relieve joint stiffness

Isometric exercises, in which you contract a specific muscle or group of muscles, may be more beneficial for those with joint problems. Exercises such as wall sits, planks and squats are great for strengthening your muscles. Isometric exercise helps maintain muscle strength and prevent further muscle degradation.

Chair aerobics is a great choice if you are having lower body issues or have trouble standing. By using rapid, repetitive movements, like biceps curls or walking in place, these workouts can help loosen up stiff joints and increase your heart rate. Strength training can be incorporated by adding dumbbells or resistance band. Chair yoga or stretching during the day can improve flexibility and reduce pain and muscle tension that may occur when sitting for long periods.

It doesn't matter what type of exercise you choose, there are several factors that can ensure your success. Kelly Borowiec is a certified personal trainer and founder of Keebs Fitness, in Saratoga California. She recommends scheduling your workouts at the time you feel most comfortable. You should also make sure that you are as comfortable as possible when exercising.

Borowiec has vast experience in working with clients with disabilities and long-term injuries. Set goals too. Just because you have a disability does not mean that you cannot progress. Focus on what you are able to do rather than what is not possible.

Swain concurred. She said that it is easy to focus only on your shortcomings. Exercise can help you remember what your body is capable of, and give you a feeling of accomplishment and empowerment that can be valuable for your self-efficacy.