Age, accidents, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s and complications from more common diseases like diabetes can all lead to decreased mobility or range of motion.
Samia Rafeedie, an associate professor of clinical occupational therapy at the University of Southern California and a member of the Occupational Therapy Association of California, said that exercise is key to helping individuals maintain or restore their mobility in whatever capacity possible. And exercise isn’t just important for physical health ― it’s also a vital component in a person’s overall well-being.
“Research repeatedly suggests that regular physical activity can significantly improve mental health and lessen symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress,” Rafeedie said, citing a study conducted in 2017.
Ling Wan-Albert, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York Institute of Technology, told HuffPost that a lack of exercise may also make conditions worse in some cases. A person “will eventually lose muscle strength, range of motion of the joints, endurance, respiratory capacity, balance, coordination and proprioception, which will cause more severe disability, as the result of lack of movements,” Wan-Albert said.
But even though exercise is crucial for everyone, access is often ableist. Most mainstream workout options are targeted toward fully mobile individuals. This creates an even larger need for equipment and at-home options for people with decreased mobility.
“Having a mobility limitation can mean different things for different people, so the key is to tailor any sort of exercise or activity program with each person’s ability and their interests,” Rafeedie said.
Of course, the most important way to do this is to work with a doctor to create an exercise program. And if you’re a caregiver or loved one who is looking to help, you can and should get familiar with those regimens as well. A physician will likely recommend a solid routine that works best.
Below, experts also share a few tools that may help those with mobility limitations meet their exercise needs. Take a look at their recommendations below.
Low-cost tools that increase upper extremity function
According to a study
published in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, items such as therapy putty, wrist weights and hand grippers were shown to increase upper extremity limb function in individuals recovering from a stroke.
No-slip wrist weights (pictured left) offer eight pounds of added difficulty to simple arm exercises in order to build more muscle.
The 14-piece strengthener pictured center includes an adjustable resistance hand gripper and a variety of resistance hand and finger rings for progressive exercises that increase strength overtime.
Moldable therapy putty (right) comes in varying levels of stiffness to meet many needs.
An interactive way to provide a variety of movement therapy benefits
Rafeedie said that virtual exercise-based games "can be a useful tool for people diagnosed with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis."
Virtual reality simulators such as the Oculus all-in-one headset and and touch controllers have the potential to provide "moderate intensity exercises, task-oriented training, and high-repetition to maximize motor learning" in a more enjoyable way.
A yoga starter set to improve balance in some cases
According to Rafeedie, "there is evidence supporting home-based tai chi or yoga being more effective than 'typical balance exercises' for improving balance and functional mobility in people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease."
This yoga starter kit includes an extra thick comfort mat that's easier on joints, easy grip stability blocks for floor work and highly absorbent microfiber yoga towels.
A strap and exercise book to promote active stretching
"When done properly, stretching can help increase range of motion if done to the point of maximum stretch," Rafeedie said. This will typically involve holding a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds a few degrees beyond a person's level of comfort.
This stretching guide contains more than 30 clearly demonstrated stretches as well as variations on each stretch for different capabilities and the durable nylon strap is made up of 10 loops to help gradually increase flexibility over time.
A recumbent exercise bike with a chair-style seat
"Recumbent stationary bikes are similar to regular stationary bikes except that the seated surface is at the height of a regular chair, so an individual who is not able to get on a regular bike can use it. Some of the recumbent bikes also come with arm bars, which also allow upper extremity movements," Wan-Albert said.
This magnetic recumbent bike features a step-through design for easier access, eight resistance levels and an oversized seat and back to support the body and ensure correct posture.
A therapy ball with a stability base for core strengthening
According to Wan-Albert, "Therapy balls are great for strengthening the core, improving sitting balance, and working on posture." This durable and slip-resistant ball from Trideer is made from an eco-conscious and hypoallergenic material. It also comes with a stability base to reduce the risk of falling as well as a pump to top off the ball with air when needed. It's rated up to 2,000 pounds, making it safe for anyone to use.
A fun way to exercise that doesn't require standing
Similarly to virtual gaming, traditional gaming systems can be a more affordable and entertaining way to engage in physical activity. Kalaisenthil Kalaimani, a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapists
and the national director of therapy at Guardian Angel Homecare
, said that devices such as Xbox 360's Kinect offer many games that require physical activity in order to play along, and most can be performed both sitting and standing.
The Xbox 360 Kinect is discontinued, so this item is previously used and there is only one available. However, you can find other refurbished models in "like new" condition,
also on Amazon.
A balancing board for more advanced coordination work
Kalaimani also suggested balancing boards as a useful way to practice things like weight distribution, balance and coordination. Fixed with anti-slip strips, this wooden balancing board uses a simple side to side motion to build core strength and can accommodate users up to 300 pounds.
A weighted medicine ball for upper body strengthening
For strengthening exercises, Wan-Albert said that it might be useful to use weighted medicine balls specifically for upper body training. This high-density medicine ball is easy to grip and comes in weights as low as 10 pounds and as much as 40 pounds to perform simple seated arm curls or more advanced weighted half-squats.