Staying active can be difficult if you experience limited mobility. In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of regular exercise and show you 7 exercises you can do if you’re older, have limited mobility, or both.
Exercise helps prevent health problems like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Certain types of cancer
Despite the benefits, only 23% of older adults get enough exercise.2
So what’s the reason so many older adults aren’t active?
Limited mobility. It’s the most common disability affecting older Americans. An estimated one-third to one half of all adults age 65 and older have trouble walking or climbing stairs.4 Fortunately, there are still many exercises for limited mobility you can do to stay active.
Exercise guidelines for older adults
If you’re age 65 or older, you might not be as mobile or active as you used to be. But being active is still important. For older adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
- 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (like walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity (like hiking, jogging or running).
- At least 2 days a week of strength training (like bodyweight exercises or weight lifting).
- At least 3 days a week, activities that improve balance (like balancing on one foot).
Before you start an exercise program…
If you’re 65 or older and in good health, follow the exercise guidelines above for older adults. If you have limited mobility and other health issues, it’s important to talk to your doctor. But keep this in mind: Zero physical activity is a health risk. Even exercises for limited mobility can improve your health, quality of life and ability to handle activities of daily living on your own.
If any of the following conditions apply to you, you will need to have a conversation with your health care provider before starting a workout program.
- A new symptom or symptoms you haven’t yet brought up with your doctor
- Recent surgery on your back or hip
- Chest pain or pressure or a heartbeat that seems to skip, flutter or race
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- History of blood clots
- Infection or fever accompanied by aching muscles
- Weight loss that isn’t a result of diet, exercise, etc.
- Wounds or sores on your feet or ankles that don’t heal
- Swelling joints
- Certain eye conditions, such as laser treatment, recent eye surgery or detached/bleeding retina
If you have a chronic illness or limited mobility, talk with your doctor about how much exercise you should get and what types will suit you best.
Exercises for limited mobility: 7 easy ways to stay active
So how do you stay active even if it’s hard to do certain things? Here are 7 exercises for limited mobility to help you move more.
1. Exercise in water
Why? It’s easier to move around. There’s less pressure on your joints. And it’s an effective way to work out even if you have mobility issues. One recent study found that exercising in water a few times a week for 8 to 12 weeks helped improve:
- Heart health
- Overall fitness
2. Use groceries to build strength
Who needs expensive exercise equipment? You can use the following to build strength:
- A gallon jug of milk
- 1-pound can of food
- Bag of rice
- Container full of liquid
- Bag of apples, potatoes, onions or oranges
- Bag of pet food
- Bottle of laundry detergent
Carry your groceries. Even if it’s just one bag at a time. Or use these items to do simple exercises like:
- Biceps curls with grocery sacks or milk jugs
- Shoulder raise with a bag of rice
- Bent-over row with two soup cans
- Farmer carry with two bottles of laundry detergent
- Walking lunges with grocery bags or milk jugs
You can even do some of these exercises while sitting in a chair (bicep curls, shoulder raise, bent-over row). Use a weight that’s appropriate for you — if you can’t lift the weight 8 times in a row, try something lighter.
3. Use resistance bands
Ever seen rubber resistance bands used in a gym or physical therapy? Resistance bands offer another safe and low-impact type of exercises for limited mobility.
In one recent study, researchers had a group of older adults use resistance bands. They exercised for 60 minutes three times a week. After 12 weeks, they found that exercise using resistance bands helped:
- Improve grip strength
- Increase flexibility
- Develop lower-leg strength
- Lower blood pressure
You can use a resistance band to do a variety of exercises to improve strength and balance such as:
- Seated rows
- Chest press
- Biceps curl
- Band pull-apart
4. Build grip strength
Did you know grip-strength can be used to measure and predict your health and quality of life? In a recent study, researchers found that older adults with poor grip strength were at higher risk for physical decline.7 They also found that good grip strength may be tied to healthy aging.
Here’s a simple way to improve grip strength:
- Get a tennis ball, rubber ball or foam ball.
- Hold the ball in one hand.
- Squeeze with all the pressure you can muster for 3 to 5 seconds. Relax your grip slowly.
- Repeat in sets of 10–15 squeezes per hand.
Exercises for limited mobility to build grip strength like this will help you get stronger and support everyday needs like picking and holding objects or opening jars.
5. Chair dips
If you have trouble walking or climbing stairs, you can still be active. You can use your chair to build upper body strength, like this:
Use a chair with armrests.
- Sit with your feet shoulder-width apart and flat to the floor.
- Hold the arms of the chair with your hands. Lean forward a bit, and breathe in.
- Keeping your upper body straight, slowly push yourself out of the chair using your arms only and breathe out.
- Hold yourself in place for 1 second.
- Lower yourself back into the chair and breathe in.
- Do sets of 10–15 repetitions, with short breaks in between.
6. Chair-leg extension
Here’s a simple exercise you can do to build leg strength, even if walking is hard for you.
- Sit with your back straight against a chair. Only the balls of your feet and toes should be touching the ground. Breathe in.
- As you breathe out, bring one leg up and stretch it to be as straight as possible. Don’t lock your knee, though.
- Flex your foot toward you, and hold for 1 second.
- Breathe out and lower your leg to its original position.
- Repeat in sets of 10–15, alternating legs.
7. Chest stretch
When you have limited mobility, getting on the floor to do push-ups to strengthen your chest might be too hard. But you can still exercise your chest, even while sitting in a chair. Here’s how:
- Sit in a chair without arms. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and flat to the floor.
- Extend your arms to your sides, with the palms of your hands facing forward.
- Ease your arms back, and feel your shoulder blades move toward one another.
- When you get a good stretch, pause and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat this stretch 3 to 5 times.
Don’t let limited mobility limit you. You can still be active. It’s important to promote good health. Find exercises you can do. Or ask your doctor for help. Even moderate amounts of exercise can improve your health, prevent and manage disease and help you live longer.
In fact, one recent study found that even just 11 minutes of moderate exercise per day will help you live longer. Even if you have limited mobility, you can still find ways to move more, sit less and be more active.