Exercises for People with Limited Mobility: Part 1 of 2

If you have been inactive for a long period of time, your muscles will begin to atrophy; that is, they will shrink in size and strength. Having an arm or leg in a cast demonstrates this process well. The longer you lie in bed or sit in a chair, the longer it will take you to regain your normal muscle strength and return to more active living. But you can start an exercise program that will build your muscle tone and stamina, no matter how limited your present physical condition.

Such an exercise program introduces activities gradually, starting first with passive and gentle limbering exercises. Even though the first series are done in bed, they will minimize joint and muscle deterioration, and will possibly prevent complications such as bone softening, bloodclots, or even bedsores.

From this "low energy" program, you progress to sitting exercises which work against greater resistance, to build muscle tone. At this point you will be concentrating on the walking muscles. As you begin to spend a greater part of the day up and around, more active and vigorous exercises are brought into the program.

If you are recovering from a mastectomy, amputation, or other serious operation, special exercises would be added to the program, and alterations made where necessary.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercising is enjoyable and can relieve the boredom and depression that often follows an extended stay in the hospital or confinement at home. Family and friends should be encouraged to learn the exercises with you. Exercising together, you will be more likely to stick to your program, and will feel more a part of the family again. Your companions will also get the satisfaction of directly participating, and helping you to return to more active living.

An important additional reason for their participation is safety. In the beginning, you may feel unsure of your ability to exercise, and may need them to help you into a comfortable position to start your exercises. They should be present, too, when you begin sitting or standing exercises, as you may feel dizzy when standing or bending over after a period of prolonged bed rest.

You may think that all useful exercises must be a part of a structured program which you do in one place at one time. While this may be true at first, later programs can use household chores, gardening, and sports activities as a means of exercising specific parts of the body. The more structured exercises can be done to prerecorded music and instructions. This helps organize and direct your daily exercise program, and makes it more pleasurable.

Rules for Safe Exercising

When you begin, you will want to make sure that you do not get too tired or hurt yourself. To help you, we've listed a few simple rules:

  1. Ask your physician if you are ready to exercise. At first, it is wise to let your doctor set the limits on your physical activity.
  2. Have someone join you in doing the exercises-for enjoyment and for safety. This is especially important when you are just beginning to get out of bed, since you may get dizzy when standing up or bending over.
  3. If you get tired or if your muscles feel sore, stop and rest.
  4. Leave out exercises that seem too difficult. Try them another day when you feel stronger. If you have just had surgery, do not do any exercises using resistance unless you have okayed this with your doctor.
  5. Try to repeat each exercise three to five times at first. If you feel too weak, do each only once or twice. Gradually increase the number to ten or twenty.
  6. Try to exercise twice a day, and more often if you feel like it.

Read Exercises for People with Limited Mobility: Part 2 of 2


Editor's Note: Adapted from Rehabilitation Exercises for the Cancer Patient, Bull Publishing Company: Palo Alto, CA, 1980. Selection authored by Francine Manuel, demonstrated by Jack LaLanne