According to the Centers for Disease Control, physical exercise has many positive effects on health, such as:
- reduced risk of death by coronary disease
- improved stamina and muscle strength
- relief from anxiety and depression, and
- lowered blood pressure in those with hypertension
These health benefits aren’t limited to individuals with full mobility, either; exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to produce positive results. In fact, exercise of just five to 10 minutes duration can provide health benefits to people with limited mobility.
Unfortunately, too many adults with mobility issues find it difficult to overcome natural mental and emotional barriers to participating in regular exercise. If you are a therapist or caregiver of an individual with mobility issues, here are some common excuses you may hear and ways you can help defeat them.
1. I’m self-conscious about how I look when I exercise.
This is a frequent excuse, one that can be deeply troubling for some individuals. Fortunately, you don’t need to go to a gym or other public place to get exercise, especially while you are first starting out. One of the most effective things you can do at home is to begin weight and resistance training using hand weights, which you can do in a seated position. You can also practice simple stretching exercises to improve muscle tone.
You can also look for classes just for people with limited mobility; exercising with others of similar ability will make you feel less self-conscious. Some people also hire a private trainer to come to their home, or work with them individually at a gym or studio.
2. I’m afraid of injuring myself.
This is certainly understandable, especially if your mobility issue causes painful joints or inflammation, such as arthritis. Look for low-risk activities such as riding a stationary bike or walking in a swimming pool. Of course, just like anyone just starting a new exercise activity, it’s important to get your doctor’s permission before you begin, and be sure to include a warm-up and cool down period in your routine. And remember, if an activity hurts, you should stop doing it immediately and seek medical attention if the pain is severe or persists. Exercise should never hurt you.
3. I’m not athletic.
Few people are born with athletic ability and you don’t need to be a superstar to exercise. Moving your body to music, paddling around a pool using a swim belt or hand floaties, or even playing an activity-based video game (some people call these “exergames”) are all ways to introduce physical activity into your life without being particularly athletic. Even working in a container garden outdoors or flying a kite on a sunny day will help get your muscles moving and release endorphins, your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
4. It’s too hard to get started; I can’t motivate myself to stick with it.
Starting a new exercise program is hard for everyone, not just people with limited mobility. One of the best ways to encourage yourself to stick with an activity is to find a friend or partner to exercise with—that way, you are accountable to each other and can encourage one another.
Be sure to let friends and relatives know that you are trying to be more active, and ask them to encourage and support you. Many times, this is all the motivation they need to make exercise a social event you can do together. Plan a weekly pool outing or an afternoon together outdoors walking (or rolling, if you use a wheelchair) around a neighborhood park. The point is, don’t try to do it alone if you tend to put off things that challenge you; include people who care about you in your plans to help you stick with them.
It’s true that people with mobility issues face unique physical challenges starting and maintaining an exercise program, but emotional and motivational issues shouldn’t sabotage attempts at physical activity. Understanding that the normal concerns are often magnified in patients with limited mobility, and having concrete solutions (and a little patience) goes a long way toward encouraging healthy exercise habits in people with physical limitations.