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Wheelchair Aerobics: Low Impact Exercises for Disabled People

wheelchair exercises, including wheelchair aerobics, are very important for all wheelchair users.
Alokita | May 30, 2017 (Last update: January 28, 2023)

Alokita is a Polio Survivor. She overcame her disability and went on to become a commerce graduate. Alokita writes about disability issues and her appetite for learning new things is far from satiated.

When you think of adding exercise to your daily routine it should not feel like one more chore added to already overwhelming to-dos. If the idea of exercising does not excites you then in the first place you’ll keep on procrastinating. Suppose the sudden kick of motivation gained from somewhere else makes you start your exercise session; you’ll get bored and dump your fitness regime in less than a fortnight. It is mandatory to adopt interesting workouts because only knowing the benefits does not give enough motivation.

Who does not know the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables? But tell me seriously do you eat fruits and vegetables just motivated by their nutrient factors? Taste is obviously the main factor we choose to eat or not to eat something. So let’s be honest to ourselves; hundreds and thousands of health benefits cannot make us stick to our fitness training unless it does not feel interesting to us.

SEE ALSO: Exercise is VERY Important for Disabled People

Seeing from the point of view of fascination or interest arising factor, no exercise can come at par with aerobics. This is one of the most flexible type of exercise that can be customized according to ability and limitations of each individual. What about benefits? The range of benefits of aerobics makes it a boss among all exercises. So choosing aerobics keeps you in a win-win situation!

What is Wheelchair Aerobics?

Technically aerobic exercises often referred to as cardiovascular exercises or simply ‘cardio’ are a set of exercises designed to improve cardiovascular efficiency of body in absorbing oxygen and transporting it to the whole body.

Aerobics includes variety of exercises such as jogging, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, boxing, dancing and lot more.

Simply stated aerobics can include any activity that increases heart and breathing rate thus sending more oxygen to our muscles. This means you can choose an activity of your choice as your aerobic exercise from a large variety of activities. If you love swimming; you can go for aqua-aerobics. Dance lovers can choose to dance with their upper-body. That is all aerobics.

Now, what is wheelchair aerobics? Well, any aerobic movements that you do sitting on a wheelchair are called wheelchair aerobics. It is possible to increases heart and breathing rate while doing simple movements sitting on a wheelchair. You can even choose propelling your wheelchair at a higher than usual speed as an exercise for your aerobics session.

wheelchair exercises, including wheelchair aerobics, are very important for all wheelchair users.

Benefits of aerobic exercises

Although fascination practically leads you in doing regular exercise; you need to know the benefits for determining your end goal and making you more disciplined. You should choose an activity based on your interest but don’t treat your aerobic session as a leisure activity. Stay disciplined in following your exercise routine in order to reap the maximum benefits. If you go for moderate intensity aerobics then your target should be 30 minutes session 5 days a week. If you are capable of doing high intensity workout then 20 minutes’ session for 3 days a week is enough. If you follow the routine you can get benefited in many ways.

  • Intense physical activities such as aerobics are very helpful in combating coronary heart diseases.
  • Not only heart but aerobic exercises improve fitness of lungs too.
  • It alleviates the signs and symptoms of depression by increasing the feel good hormone in body. Aerobic exercises also improve emotional stability, memory and other brain functions in long run.
  • Regular aerobic exercises help in lowering cholesterol and blood-pressure.
  • Aerobics improves our overall health by improving the immune functions.
  • It reduces the risk of type2 diabetes, the most blood sugar related problem.
  • Aerobic exercises helps in shedding extra weight by burning calories.
  • It tones our muscles and improves posture.
  • Aerobics also works for building stamina and also improves the sleep quality.

Things to keep in mind while doing wheelchair exercises

  • The best indicative limit of aerobics for individuals told by experts is… you should be able to talk after finishing your workout session but if you are able to sing a line of any song then you’ve not done the required amount of workout.
  • You need to warm-up your body before the actual aerobics. This warm-up can be the aerobic exercise itself but in a slow motion.
  • Aerobic session should end with some stretching to prevent your muscles from being injured. This stretching period is called cooling-down after the actual exercise session.
  • If you are feeling over-tired or ill then you should skip your aerobic session for the day.
  • Keep your goals achievable. If you don’t have the stamina to exercise in one big session then you can break it in several small sessions spread over the day.
  • If you choose to workout in several sessions a day; keep a gap of 1 hour between your meal and workout. If you took a heavy meal then let 2 hours pass before working-out.
  • Keep a workout log. I know it is boring but if you want to keep progressing with your health then a log is the best tool to graph your progress.
  • If losing weight is in your target list for starting aerobics; don’t cut on your diet. Your body needs proper nutrition along with exercise to stay fit.

Types of aerobic exercises suited for wheelchair users

As written earlier aerobic exercises can be customized with the ability, limitations and need of each individual; there are various aerobics specially designed to be done with seated position. Let us talk about some of the most common aerobic exercises recommended for wheelchair users.

Low impact aerobics

This is actually not an aerobic exercise but a wide group of aerobic exercises that are especially designed for persons who cannot perform high-intensity workouts. The exercises that fall in this category are mostly rhythmic movements that focus on exercising large muscles groups. Aerobic exercise like chair-marching, rowing-in-a-chair, chair-swimming, shrugging and rolling shoulders, playing a basketball, grabbing-pushing-and-pulling etc are examples of low impact aerobics.

These exercises are mostly gesture imitations that are recommended to be done in 4 sets of 10 repetitions with 10 seconds of rest between each set.

Chair-marching is done sitting on your wheelchair or any other chair (preferably without arms). You need to imagine yourself marching like a soldier and imitate the gesture as much as possible. This means if you have power in your legs you’ll lift it too while sending your hands to and fro but if don’t have power to move your legs you have to march with your hands only.

Rowing-in-a-chair similarly is acting as if you are rowing a boat while seated straight in your chair. While doing these exercises you need to start slow and then increase your speed.


Chair Swimming is acting like a swimmer. You need to imitate the hand gestures of a swimmer at a height that feels comfortable to you. You can try to raise your hands higher and lower from your comfortable height while imitating swimming posture to increase the intensity of exercise.

Shrugging and Rolling shoulders as the name suggests is an exercise that involves shrugging and rolling your shoulders. If you start rolling your shoulders in a clockwise direction you should alternate it with ant-clockwise direction movement after say every 10 repetitions. You can open your arms sideways while rolling your shoulders to increase the intensity of exercise. If it feels tough then you can fold your hands at elbow level to touch your shoulders with your fingers and then roll your shoulders in both directions.

Playing a basketball is also similar to above mentioned exercises. You have to imitate the hand movements of a basketball player with both of your hands. Don’t only do the similar movement but imagine the force that a player needs to apply on the ball… bring that force while doing this exercise.

Grabbing-pulling-and-pushing is a multi directional and very effective aerobic exercise. You need to imagine an iron-bar suspended above you; stretch your hands, grab the bar and pull it down forcefully. Similarly you need to imagine and grab iron bar placed in front of you, at your sides and at your wheelchair foot-rest; pull and push those bars in their opposite direction.

Wheelchair propelling is a work you do more than often if you use manual self-propelling wheelchair. But if you do it with dedication like an exercise this too can be a good aerobic exercise that can drench you in sweat. Go in your nearby park chose any person who is jogging as your competitor and start racing.

Seated-zumba or other dance aerobics too are good and interesting options for wheelchair users. Aqua or water aerobics too can be done by wheelchair users but we are not going into detail as it is technically not a form of wheelchair aerobics. Regular practice of aerobics brings flexibility to the body which is necessary for wheelchair users as we lack some movements and are dependent heavily on certain movements due to our physical condition resulting in body stiffness. If we do not workout our muscles we can lose some of them in long-run.

In the next article, we will talk about muscle strengthening wheelchair exercises. And then further we will explain resistance training exercises as well. Stay tuned!

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3 responses to “Wheelchair Aerobics: Low Impact Exercises for Disabled People”

  1. Avatar Eileen says:

    Thank you, this is just the info I have been looking for – was diagnosed with PPMS five years ago and am now in a wheelchair and rapidly getting out of shape. This information will help that, thanks again.

  2. Avatar Bethany Rose says:

    This is really helpful for me as a person with a visual impairment, a wheelchair user, and chronic pain and fatigue. This gives me some guidelines, so thank you.

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