Sit to be fit

By Brandy Minks

Exercise for many people is a challenge because of limited mobility. Excess weight can be restraining and joint issues, decreased muscle mass and low endurance can be limiting factors to exercise. Reliance on a cane, walker or wheelchair may also restrict the number or types of activities you can perform.

The goal of exercise is ideally to improve “functional fitness,” or training for the daily activities of life. However, even if you struggle with mobility, there are ways to incorporate functional fitness training into your life.

Focus on these three areas to improve functional fitness:

  • Aerobic capacity refers to how much endurance you have when it comes to activities such as walking, climbing stairs, washing yourself, getting dressed, etc. These activities can increase your heart rate and breathing. When we lack aerobic capacity, daily activities seem harder and make us tire easily. By building up aerobic capacity through regular exercise, activities become easier and we have better quality of life.
  • Muscular strength refers to the strength of your muscles and whether your endurance is adequate enough to complete daily activities without problems. For example, think about whether it is difficult for you to brush your hair or push yourself up from a chair. If these activities are hard for you (or you require assistance), increasing your muscular strength and endurance will help you do these activities with ease.
  • Range of motion/flexibility refers to the ability to move our bodies in ways that allow us to do activities with minimal pain. Ask yourself: Can I reach behind my head to brush my hair? Can I stretch to tie my shoes or put on socks? Having good flexibility allows us to do daily activities effortlessly.

To increase aerobic capacity, start with simple seated exercises. You can do these on your own or in a class. Any movement that causes your heart rate and breathing to increase will work. Take breaks as you need them. Start off slowly and increase the time you exercise by a minute or two every day.

To increase muscular endurance and flexibility, practice the following exercises while seated in a chair 5–10 times. These exercises mimic activities we do every day:

  • Reach for it. Bend slightly forward at your hips and hold your arms straight out in front of you.
  • Pick it up. Pull a backpack or bag from the floor onto your lap. Then pull it up higher and hold it to your chest. You can add items to the bag to make this harder.
  • Push it. Push yourself up from your chair using your arms and legs and sit back down. Make your legs do most of the work.
  • Pull it. Reach your arms straight out in front of you. Pull your elbows back and pinch your shoulder blades together. You can do this with weights to make it harder.
  • Carry it. Carry your bag or backpack from one spot to another.

Brandy Minks, who has masters degrees in nutrition and exercise physiology, works for MultiCare Health System’s Center for Weight Loss and Wellness.