For people with limited mobility due to an injury or a chronic condition, it can be a challenge to keep weight off and stay in shape. Weight gain and lack of exercise can not only cause physical health problems, immobility can also lead to depression and other mental health issues. There are some options, though, depending on the severity of your injury or condition.
Eat Right: Yes, this is what your mother always told you to do. Eat your vegetables! When physical exercise is not an option, you can focus instead on your diet. The rules for healthy eating are no different when immobile, but the lack of activity may mean your existing diet will impact your health if you’re eating the same amount calories without the activity that burns some off. Getting the proper amount of protein plays an essential role in diets for people with limited mobility. Protein repairs and builds muscles and body tissues. In order to prevent weight gain, fewer calories will be needed since fewer calories are being used. Look for proteins low in saturated fats–seafood, beans, and nonfat dairy products.
Exercise: What types of exercise are possible with limited mobility? It’s important to remember that any type of exercise will offer health benefits. Mobility issues inevitably make some types of exercise easier than others, but no matter your physical situation, aim to incorporate three different types of exercise into your routines:
Cardio: Cardiovascular exercises raise your heart rate and increase your endurance. These can include walking, running, cycling, dancing, tennis, and swimming. For some, water exercises are a good choice as being in the water reduces the strain on the part of the body that is injured and can allow you to work with just the parts of your body that aren’t injured.
Strength: Strength exercises involve using weights, rubber straps, or other resistance devices to build muscle and bone mass, improve balance, and prevent falls. If your legs are not usable, focus on your arms and core. If your upper body is impaired, use your legs. Start “slow and low”–slow motion and low weights–and build your strength.
Stretch: Flexibility exercises increase and protect your range of motion, prevent injury, and reduce pain and stiffness. Some yoga studios offer courses and videos for people with limited mobility, even wheelchair yoga. It’s important to be careful when stretching muscles, especially if they’re not used to it. Ask your doctor or physical therapists for stretching recommendations.
Get Started: The hardest part of exercise and healthier eating for most people is to just get started. Don’t try to rebuild your body in a day–you may hurt yourself and be too sore to exercise in the future. Start slow, with gentle activities. It’s also important to develop a pattern of healthy diet and exercise. Make it a part of your daily routine. It takes about a month, experts say, for something new to become a habit. Stick with it!
Ask for Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. There are more and more programs available that have “adaptive” versions for people with mobility challenges. Even if you’re not a senior, a local senior center can be a good resource to find out what diet and exercise resources are available in your area.
Have a question about MedicoRx®? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions page!