Wheelchair Exercises for Seniors
Simple Exercises That Get You Moving

Older seniors can benefit both mentally and physically from weekly exercise, especially those who are wheelchair bound.  Having limited mobility does not need to stop you from reaching your fitness goals. While many fitness routines for seniors utilize balls, bands and weights there are also simple routines where all you need is…you! Feel free to modify your routine by adding or subtracting various exercises, the important thing is that you are becoming more active. So now it’s time to turn up the tunes and get moving!

Neck Rolls- Warm up your neck muscles by slowly moving your chin down towards your chest then over to your left shoulder and repeat 5 times. Next roll your head to your right shoulder an additional 5 times. Keep pressure off of your spine by only rolling your head sideways and not to the back.

Shoulder Lifts- Slowly lift both shoulders straight up towards your ears and then back down. Repeat 5-10 times.

Arm Stretches- Extend your arms out in front of you and interlace your fingers. Sit up straight and keep arms stretched out in front of you. Keeping your hands clasped together, raise your arms as high as you comfortably can then slowly bring them back down. Repeat 5-10 times.

Side Twist- Slowly twist your body to the right and hold onto the side of your wheelchair with both hands. Make sure to turn your head with your body. Stay in this position for 5-10 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

Knee Lifts- Hold onto your wheelchair with both hands, one on each side. Slowly lift one knee up as high as you comfortably can and hold for 3 seconds then gently place your foot back on the floor by lowering your knee. Repeat 3-4 times then switch to your opposite knee.

Leg Circles- Raise your foot up and rotate your leg making small circles keeping your foot flexed. Continue circular motion for 10 seconds then repeat with opposite leg.

Front Foot Lifts- Lift your feet up off the ground while keeping your heels planted on the floor. repeat 5-10 times on each foot.

Heel Lifts- Keeping your toes pressed to the floor, lift your heels up off the ground and then back down 5-10 times.

Churn the Butter- Make two fists and place one on top of the other. Keeping this hand position, mime as if you are slowly churning a large bucket of butter clockwise in a circular motion. “Stir” for 5-10 seconds then repeat motion counter-clockwise for an additional 5-10 seconds.

Running Man- Quickly jog your feet barely lifting your feet off the ground. For higher intensity add arm movements as if you are running. Continue your seated jog for 5-10 seconds, take two slow deep breaths then repeat 3-4 times.

Swimmer- Using your arms, imitate the following swimming strokes 5-10 times each. You can also choose your own swimming strokes if you are not familiar with the names.
Backstroke
The Crawl/Freestyle
Breaststroke

Seated Jumping Jacks- Open and close your arms and legs just as you would a traditional jumping jack. You can further modify by this exercise by doing just arms first and then legs. Try 3 sets of 5-10 jumping jacks.

Deep Breaths- Cool down with 5-10 long deep breathes. Breath in through your nose and slowly exhale out through your mouth.

Note: Stretching and exercise should never feel painful, listen to your body and start slow and easy with gradual progression. It’s always a good idea to ask your doctor before starting a physical program to find out if there is anything you should avoid, appropriate level of exertion and recommended frequency.

8 Comments

  1. Tracy Isom

    This is very helpful. Im a caregiver for 2 men (Father and Son) that are on wheelchairs. Thank you for these tips amd if you have any ideas on how to make excercising more intetesting for and elderly man with dymentia that would be awesome!!

    • Kristin Angulo

      Hi Tracy! Thank you for reading and responding, I am happy to hear you found the blog helpful! I will email you with more information. Have a great day!

  2. Brigitte Bénazet

    Hi Kristin – this is helpful indeed. I give chair yoga to seniors in a home and i am always looking for ways to make them move. I have a couple of clients with dementia – i would absolutely love to get more information if you have any! thank you so much!!

    • Kristin Angulo

      Hi Brigitte, I am so happy that you found this blog helpful! I am emailing you with additional information. Have a great weekend!

  3. Carolyn Fuller

    Hi Kristin,
    I have two in-laws in assisted living whose muscles are atrophying and their minds are leaving, too! They need some sort of exercise because they are losing all mobility in their wheelchairs. Thank you for your tips. I am going to try to get them to exercise with me today from their chairs!
    thanks,
    CArolyn

  4. Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS

    Great advice, Kristen. I am a custom wheelchair specialist for a medical equipment company. I often see people give up when they face the reality of a wheelchair. But there is no reason to stop being active because they are using a wheelchair. As a matter of fact, the reason they get the chair usually is to restore mobility and become more active! Exercises like these are helpful to getting these patients interested in moving again. One suggestion for your readers: make sure the wheel locks are engaged before moving around too much in a wheelchair. Anti-tippers aren’t a bad idea either!

    • Kristin Angulo

      Hi Scott, Thank you for reading and for your kind response. Yes, I completely agree, locking the wheelchair brakes is very important when exercising and anti-tippers are great as well! I definitely want to make a note of that. Have a great day and thank’s again for commenting!

  5. Gina Joslin

    I need to make an exercise plan for my step – dad. He has had hip and bi-lateral knee replacements. His posture is crooked sideways and hunched. He falls often; he has a neurological condition that affects his balance. He walks very little and only with a walker and is getting quite weak everywhere. I was hopIng to incorporate a (low) doorway bar somehow for some of the upper body movements to be done seated. I also have a set of bands and a loop that I would like to know hi w to use for leg strengthening. Thank you!

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