Recent research has shown that sitting for extended periods of time can lead to several health concerns. Inactivity and limited movement can be risk factors for diseases such as obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, back pain, and more. This is why doctors recommend taking breaks from sitting to stand, walk, and run.

But what if you cannot stand up to move around and are wheelchair bound? Wheelchair users may be at risk for even more health problems due to constant seating such as bowel or bladder issues, depression, and/or pressure sores or ulcers. Fitness advice for wheelchair users must be uniquely tailored to the person’s physical limitations while still providing an opportunity for movement and exercise.

Physical disability in adults is rapidly rising worldwide. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) reports that there are approximately 17,730 new spinal cord injuries in the U.S. each year, and consumer reports are showing an annual 8% growth in the U.S. wheelchair market.

With this many current and anticipated wheelchair users, it is important to help these individuals find safe and effective exercises to increase physical activity and avoid the health complications that come from constant sitting.

What kind of exercise should wheelchair users do?

 Aerobic exercise that increases your heart rate is as important to wheelchair users as it is for any other adult. This can include swimming and wheelchair sports such as basketball or badminton.

Some wheelchair users use a lot of their chest and shoulder muscles in the repeated motion needed to push their wheelchairs. This can lead to tightness or injury in those muscles. Meanwhile, the back muscles become weaker because they are not worked.

Gyms with equipment adapted for wheelchair users are a great place for muscle-strengthening exercises. The VitaGlide®, which provides a seated aerobic and strengthening exercise, is a great piece of exercise equipment for wheelchair users. Through resistance technology that simulates the motions of cross-country skiing (push-pull) or rowing (push together-pull together), the VitaGlide® works to increase heart rate and develop upper body and core strength with cardio conditioning, while reducing shoulder impingement.

How much time should I spend exercising?

Adults between 19 and 64, including wheelchair users, should typically spend at least 150 minutes a week engaging in aerobic activity and strength exercises two days a week. This will vary based on each individual, but the ultimate goal is to start slow and build a balanced aerobic and strength building exercise regime.

Through proper fitness advice, wheelchair users can not only help prevent health issues but also reduce falls during transfers while improving balance, independence, cardiovascular health, and overall quality of life.