People who are less-mobile nevertheless remain movers and doers

Wheelchair marathoners fly to the finish at 20 mph before this runner is half done with the race. I don’t call them athletes – I call them daredevils, who jet down hills at head-cracking speeds, sometimes dump, vault back into their chairs, and surge on with arms of steel and guts few others possess.

What about typical people, confined to a chair?

A friend, with severely limited use of limbs, operates a joystick, smiling radiantly while spinning to music. She breathes enthusiastically as the music guides her moves. Another friend, with cerebral palsy, stretches out, pulling herself along on one side as she crawls around her house. In public, she’s chairbound. People are distressed seeing her on the ground, so she pops out of it at home to move and stretch.

Talking to a third friend, confined to a chair by multiple sclerosis, I became interested in movement opportunities for people in wheelchairs. Here is a sample of exercises I found. (I tried them so I know they are good for anybody in front of computer.)

People with movement of arms or legs

• Picking fruit motion: Breathe in, raising one arm, breathe out raising the alternate arm. Change sides, reaching as high as possible, stretching fingers wide. Eight repetitions, three or more sets. Benefits spine, circulation, range of motion and fingers.

• Wheelchair marching: Raise one arm, opposite leg. Exaggerate motion to add aerobic exertion. Benefits quad muscles, stabilizes knee joint, develops muscles to arise from chair.

• Chair row: Raise arms to shoulder level, bring hands in toward chest, pressing elbows back as far as possible without strain. Circle elbows in rowing motion, squeezing shoulder blades closer and closer. Benefits heart rate, lung function, arm and chest muscles. ( )

People with use of arms

• Resistance band: Wrap a band around a bedpost or chair back or under wheelchair. One second pull, two seconds rest, 20 repetitions.

• Air punch – with or without light weights. Three sets of ten, gently at first. POW!

• Water aerobics class with disabled pool access.

People without use of limbs

• Breathing exercise: Take a deep breath in. Hold five seconds and slowly breathe out. Next, quickly breathe in, taking maximum amount of air lungs can contain and breathe out as fast as possible. Next, take a deep breath in and hold. As you continue to hold, take two more breaths in, then slowly exhale. Finally, take a deep breath in, and exhale while counting out loud as long as possible.

Benefits cardiac and lung function, and ensures strong respiratory system. Reduces risk of secondary respiratory complications, including pneumonia. Perform these breathing exercises twice in the morning and twice at night.

I’ve included sites for more complete information than this short piece can include. The point is that the human body is made to move and receives benefit from seated exercises. Sites suggest 70 to 150 minutes a week in 10-minute increments, and names another result — endorphins. We’re happier post-exertion.

I started by describing wheelchair marathoners. Other sports include speed sailing, motocross, tennis, basketball, rugby, softball and snow sports. Performing a sport, people breathe deeply, adapt to limitations, exploit abilities. In “playing,” people exercise, find comrades and challenge themselves.

Losing limbs or the use of them does not change the basic human who has hopes, dreams and potential. These people retain the need to move, to gain fitness from movement and elevate mood with a regular aerobic program.

Carrie Luger Slayback an award winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at

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