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What exercises should I do if I am chairbound?

Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about chairbound exercise programs. Ask at your local gym or YMCA also -- it may offer exercise programs for chairbound individuals and will likely have gym equipment with swivel seats that push to the side to create a space if you use a wheelchair. Ideally, your chairobics routine needs to include exercises that address the following:
  • Strength: Repetitive sets of lifting can help to preserve muscle mass -- use free weights, such as dumbbells, which you can purchase in a range of weights, or a medicine ball. Don't overextend yourself -- a 2- to 5-pound weight is adequate. If you don't have weights, anything of a reasonable weight that fits in your hand can substitute. Cans of soup are ideal. Use the weights to do bicep curls, arm circles and shoulder lifts and rotations, aiming for 10 repetitions of each.
  • Resistance: Resistance bands/tubes are like giant rubber bands and can be attached to furniture or the doorknob so you can stretch and pull on them, giving your muscles a workout as you do so. You can incorporate them into shoulder rotations and arm and leg extensions.
  • Flexibility: Many yoga moves can be adapted for in-chair use. Simple, slow stretches help with muscle flexibility and range of motion, as well as ease any muscle tightness and boost circulation to the muscles. Stretch until you feel a pull in your muscles -- but not to the extent that you feel pain -- and aim to hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Yoga's focus on controlled breathing and emotional calm also can help you cope with the stress of immobility. Ask at your local senior center and/or YMCA about chair yoga classes.
  • Endurance: Rapid leg lifts and extensions, and sitting push-ups (where you use your arms to raise yourself slightly off your seat) can help to get your heart pumping. Also try in-chair exercise equipment, such as a pedal cycler or step machine. If you are using a wheelchair, check if your local gym or YMCA offers pool exercise programs designed for wheelchair-bound older adults.

If you are chairbound exercises will have to focus on the upper extremity muscles. To strengthen your upper body you want to do a combination of pushing exercises to strengthen the chest, shoulders and triceps, and pulling exercises to strengthen the back and biceps. Pushing exercises like pushups, bench presses, overhead presses are excellent exercises for the chest, shoulders and triceps. Movements like pull ups, lat pull downs, and dumbbell rows are a great pulling exercises to strengthen your back and biceps. To get stronger focus on lower repetitions and higher weights, perform 8-9 total sets for pushing or pulling muscles using a 4-7 repetition load each set. Perform 1-2 workouts a week per area with at least 24 hours rest in between sets. This will allow you to gain good amounts of strength in the upper body.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.