Fitness Advice for Wheelchair Users

If you’re a wheelchair user, it can be easy to overlook physical fitness and exercise. But getting active will bring you important health benefits and can help you manage daily life, too.

Wheelchair users can face particular challenges when it comes to fitness and exercise.

But regular aerobic exercise – the kind that raises your heart rate and causes you to break a sweat – and muscle-strengthening exercise are just as important for the health and wellbeing of wheelchair users as they are for other adults.

Whatever your preferences and level of physical ability, there will be options that are right for you.

Physical activity doesn’t have to mean the gym, or competitive sport, though these can be great options. Activity can take many forms, and happen in many places.

Why you should get active

Regular physical activity is good for physical and mental wellbeing, and can be a great way to meet new people.

Philip Gill is a specialist tutor at YMCAfit, an organisation that trains fitness professionals. He specialises in training fitness professionals who work with wheelchair users and people with other disabilities.

He says that getting active is important for wheelchair users for a range of reasons: “Using a wheelchair can make it more difficult to do cardiovascular physical activity that raises your heart rate and makes you warm enough to break a sweat. This kind of exercise is important for the health of your heart and lungs. Missing out on this kind of exercise can contribute to weight gain over time.

“Manoeuvring or pushing a wheelchair can also put particular strain on certain muscles in the upper body, making strains or other injuries more likely. Muscle-strengthening exercises can help you to manage your wheelchair in daily life, and avoid these kinds of injuries.” 

How much activity?

The Department of Health says adults between the ages of 19 and 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-level aerobic activity a week, and muscle-strengthening activity on two or more days a week.

If you’re a wheelchair user, getting active regularly will bring you important health benefits.

Read more in Physical activity guidelines for adults.

Philip Gill says these general guidelines can help wheelchair users, too: “In the absence of specific guidelines, wheelchair users can compare their activity levels to the general guidelines for adults,” he says.

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