It’s common knowledge that physical activity is imperative for our health. It can help prevent high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis and many other conditions. There are many sports and activities wheelchair users can get involved in to stay active. How about a little wheelchair freestyle, for example? Check out this video!
That is amazing, but maybe just a tad extreme! For the more 'moderate' wheelchair user, here are some ideas about how to safely remain active in a wheelchair.
Where to start
Before starting any type of physical exercise, it’s important to talk with your doctor about what’s best for you. This will help determine what kind and how much physical activity you can subject yourself to. Make sure to set small, attainable goals for yourself and chose an activity that you love.
Types of Exercise
Simple aerobic exercises such as Pilates focus on the upper body and can improve overall fitness. Adaptive yoga is another great option that can increase flexibility and range of motion. Using simple, inexpensive resistance bands will help increase overall strength and cardiovascular health.
Wheelchair Team Sports are a great way to add competition to your workout. Contact your local community center to find out about team sports such as basketball, tennis, volleyball, golf, archery or swimming. Playing on a team can offer accountability and help motivate wheelchair users to continue physical activity.
Strength or weight training is also a great way to increase your overall fitness and can be done almost anywhere. Many gyms around the country have fitness suites that are wheelchair accessible. If you don’t have access to a gym or free weights, try using cans of food. It’s best to start with one or two pound weights and move up gradually.
Manual wheelchairs allows users to maintain a higher level of activity than full power wheelchairs. For those who have limited pushing ability but want to maximize physical activity, a power assist wheelchair may be a good option. Unlike manual wheelchairs, power assist wheelchairs have smart, software-driven motors that deliver added propulsion. The motors help the user accomplish more with less effort, which allows them to be active without putting constant strain on upper extremities.
With any physical activity or sport, there's a potential risk of injury. In Prevention and Treatment of Wheelchair Athletic Injuries by Kathleen A. Curtis, PhD, PT, she says, "The injuries most common to athletes competing in wheelchair sports involve the soft tissues of the shoulder, elbows, and wrist."
Curtis goes on to share some of the injury prevention methods for wheelchair users, including:
- Warm-Up and Stretching
- Strength Training
- Protective Devices
- Wheelchair Modifications
With awareness, education, and the right attitude, wheelchair users can maintain active and healthy lifestyles.