Exercise is an important part of everyone’s health, regardless of your mobility status. One of the biggest myths in exercise for seniors is that you cannot exercise if you are in a wheelchair. This is simply not true! There are regimens completely based around exercising in a chair. There is some level of safe exercise for everyone, but you may want to inquire with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
However, what about if it is not YOUR exercise you are worried about? A lot of seniors stay active by walking their pets or joining an activity class at the senior center. The issue arises when your best friend sits in their wheelchair, while you are exercising, and does not have the drive to work out. At Brickmont, we think everyone should strive to be the healthiest they can be. That is why we put together this guide on how to help your friend in a wheelchair get active and exercise.
Step 1 - Motivation
This is the first step in any exercise. You have to have motivation to get off the sofa or, in this case, to sit up and get moving! According to Psychology Today, there are 5 main factors that can motivate your elderly friend to get moving. You need set up manageable goals - at small strides, they can accomplish anything. The driving factor behind this is for them to be independent and feel secure. You need to stay positive and encouraging; be their friend, not their coach. Push them to feel useful and keep their mind off the task of exercising by simple conversation. You can also try and encourage them with technology, such as marking their accomplishments on social media.
Step 2 – Start Easy
When you are doing exercises with an entire group of friends the last thing you want to do is intimidate them. Start off nice and slow with neck stretches and shoulder circling. Even if your best friend hasn’t exercised in their wheelchair in a long time, this slow start up should be easy enough for them to get on board. When using weights, start out with small increments and have your friend work their way up slowly after a few workout sessions.
Step 3 – Be Consistent
After the warm up, you can slowly try more intense movements, such as overhead punches, chest expansions, and weight lifting. You want to keep your friend exercising consistently, but you also do not want to push them too hard where they will avoid hanging out with you. A good rule of thumb is to plan a workout for every other time you spend time together. That way, the person will not associate you only with working out and it will bring them pleasure when they do think of working out. If possible, plan out a schedule for 2 to 4 sessions a week.
Step 4 – Reward Hard Work
When your older friend hasn’t worked out in a while, an entire session could be a little disheartening afterwards when they are feeling exhausted. Be sure to reward their hard work - perhaps with a small treat or renting that new movie you wanted to watch together. You can also reward them with words - let them know they kicked butt in that workout or how awesome they are and how strong they are getting!
If you are trying to help your friend get exercise then you are an awesome person for caring! We hope this guide is helpful to getting you both started. If you or your friend are in senior living then there may be programs and activities to help you both along the way. Contact Brickmont to see what they have to offer for you and your friends!