20 Wheelchair / Seated Exercises for the Elderly

Being confined to a wheelchair has its discomforts especially for seniors. Having to sit all day in the same position causes serious health threats as well as fatigue, discomfort, and often bad posture. It is very useful to provide at least a daily routine of exercises to counteract these downsides. 

Exercising regularly, especially for seniors, improves balance, circulation, energy levels, and muscle strength. Most importantly, it provides emotional benefits keeping anxiety and depression at a minimum. Here are some exercises you can perform yourself or help others perform:

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1. Neck Stretch - Reduces tension around the neck.

  • Keep your back straight with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Turn your neck to the left for five seconds.
  • Turn it to the right for an additional five seconds.
  • Then look up towards the ceiling for five seconds. This stretches the muscles around the nape of the neck and under the chin.
  • Lastly look down toward the floor for an additional five seconds.

2. Neck Rotation - Improves flexibility and movement of the neck.

  • Sit up straight.
  • Rotate your neck 360 degrees in a circular motion clockwise.
  • Repeat this process for a total of three times.
  • Then rotate your neck counter clockwise.
  • Repeat this process for a total of three times.

3. Shoulder Shrug - Good for the shoulder blades, upper back, and neck.

  • Sit up straight.
  • Shrug your shoulders straight up towards your ears.
  • Then bring them back down to the starting position.
  • For best results, strive to perform this motion up to ten times.

4. Seated Arm Raise - A warm up for the arms.

  • Sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Stretch both arms upward raising them over your head.
  • Then bring them down to your knees.
  • Repeat this process five times at your own pace.

5. Lower Back Stretch - A warm up for the back.

  • Sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Use your lower back to bend down as far as you can attempting to touch your toes.
  • Then bend back to the starting position.
  • Repeat this process five times at your own pace.

6. Arms Forward and Back Stretch - A warm up for the arms and back.

  • Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed.
  • Stretch both arms and hands straight in front of you pushing outward.
  • Hold this position for two seconds.
  • Then pull your hands back towards your chest by bending your elbows.
  • Repeat this process ten times.

7. Side Stretch - A warm up for the arms and shoulders.

  • Stretch your right arm outward and back towards the right side of your chair.
  • Then stretch down towards the floor.
  • Keep this position for two seconds.
  • Then go back to a straight seated position.
  • Perform this process for the left arm.
  • Repeat this five times alternating between both arms.

8. Seated Crunches - Activates the muscles around the abdomen.

  • Sit up straight with both knees bent.
  • Cross both arms resting your hands on your shoulders.
  • Bend forward towards your knees.
  • Then bend back to the upright position.
  • Perform this exercise at least 12 times.

9. Arm Curls - Activates and strengthens the biceps.

  • Sit properly with your back straight.
  • Keep your arms straight hanging them by your sides.
  • Close your palms as if you are holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in by your side.
  • Bend your arms at the elbows bringing your fists towards your shoulders.

10. Punches - Tones the arms, shoulder muscles, and the core.

These are categorized in three ways. Each is repeated 12 times at your own pace. Breathe deeply after each set.

  • Front Punch - Extend your arm forward with both hands clenched into a fist and pull back to the starting position.
  • Cross Punch - Similar to the front punch except cross the midline of your body towards the opposite direction. The right handed punch pivots towards the left side of the body and the left punch towards the right side.
  • Upward Punch - Bend your elbows and make a fist with both hands, then punch upward above your head alternating between both arms.

11. Chest Fly - Works out the pectoral muscles and shoulder joints.

  • Sit comfortable at the edge of your chair with both feet resting flat on the floor.
  • Outstretch both arms to the side.
  • Bring your arms together in front of your chest while slightly bending your elbows.
  • Then bring your arms back slowly to the starting position opening your chest while keeping your posture upright.
  • Strive to perform 12 repetitions of these steps.

12. Hamstring Stretch - Strengthens the thigh muscles.

  • Sit at the edge of your chair with your back straight.
  • Extend one leg outward.
  • Lean forward until you feel the tension of your back thigh muscles.
  • Hold this pose for five seconds keeping the knee straight.
  • Perform these same steps with your other leg.
  • Repeat this stretch three times on both sides.

13. Ankle Stretch - Loosens and improves the flexibility of the ankles.

  • Stretch out your leg.
  • Raise it upwards slightly.
  • Point your toes away from you.
  • Then point them back towards you.
  • Perform these steps for the other leg.
  • Repeat this stretch five times on both sides.

14. Ankle Circles - Improves ankle strength and flexibility.

  • Sit up straight.
  • Stretch one leg up.
  • Rotate in circles to the left and right.
  • Perform these same steps with the other ankle.
  • Strive to do this 12 times with each ankle.

15. Progressive Marching - Strengthens leg muscles and improves functional mobility for frail residents.

  • Keep both feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift one leg at a time.
  • Then lower it back to the floor.
  • Alternate lifting and lowering both legs.
  • Start slowly at your own pace.
  • Put a timer on the clock for 20 seconds speeding up as you go.
  • Do this exercise for two intervals.

16. Knee Lifts - Strengthens the hip and thigh muscles.

  • Begin from a seated position on your chair.
  • Slowly lift one knee towards your chest.
  • Then lower it back down while keeping it in a bent position.
  • Repeat this same process with the other leg.
  • Perform 12 reps for each leg.

17. Hand Exercise - Helps tone your hands and fingers, can cause pain relief, and provides good range of motion.

  • Spread your fingers open wide palms facing up.
  • Make a fist wrapping your thumb across your fingers.
  • Repeat the action at least 10 times.
  • This workout can also work well with a stress ball through squeezing and keeping pressure in every interval.

18. Breathing Exercise - Strengthens muscles, relaxes the mind, promotes calmness, and energizes the body.

  • Inhale deeply with your lips pursed.
  • Hold your breath and count to three.
  • On the count of four, breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  • Repeat this three times.
  • Perform this process again only count to five instead of three.
  • Repeat this twice more.

19. Shoulder Circles - Improves the shoulder and neck muscles.

  • Sit properly with your back straight.
  • Make a forward circle motion with your shoulders.
  • Repeat this process for a total of 12 times.
  • Then make a backward circle motion.
  • Repeat this process for a total of 12 times.

20. Seated Leg Lifts - Good for the knees and activates the back leg muscles.

  • Sit at the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Outstretch one leg.
  • Flex your foot up towards you.
  • Raise your leg up a few inches.
  • Perform these steps with the opposite leg.
  • Repeat this exercise 12 to 15 times.

Thank you Maricris Tamondong for contributing this article.

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20 Wheelchair / Seated Exercises for the Elderly
20 Wheelchair / Seated Exercises for the Elderly

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