Tips for Keeping Kids in Wheelchairs Active

by Lucy Wyndham

Exercising can be more challenging for children and young adults in wheelchairs, but exercising regularly can prevent tension or damage in weakened body parts. Additionally, it strengthens muscles in the arms, chest, and shoulders that are necessary for pushing and turning wheelchairs. So, here are several tips to help you keep young wheelchair users active.

By the time you are an adult, the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, as well as strength building exercises at least two times per week. This guideline applies to wheelchair-equipped family members as well. In a pinch however, it is more important to encourage children and young adults to do something that is fun and keeps them active than to adhere too strictly to a guideline.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercises and anaerobic exercises are both important, but many wheelchair-equipped youths tend to favor anaerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise can be far more beneficial, however, as they help to stretch and train muscles that might otherwise weaken. By performing aerobic exercises, you can strengthen your lungs and circulation, which benefits your overall health.

Adapted sports such as wheelchair-accessible basketball or tennis can be helpful in this regard, so check with your community to learn about any potential clubs or groups nearby. It is important to break a sweat while exercising, so encourage them to play hard enough to raise their heart rate. There’s no need to go crazy here; as long as you are slightly out of breath, it should suffice.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercises allow you to stretch and strengthen muscles you have more direct control over than aerobic exercises. While aerobic exercises can benefit every part of the body, anaerobic exercises target specific areas, such as the arms, shoulders and other important muscles. Try light weightlifting or using gym equipment like rowing machines to help keep muscles strong, but avoid overdoing it.
By practicing anaerobic exercises, you can help wheelchair users maintain freedom of movement and develop habits that will last for years. While aerobic exercise benefits the circulation and endurance, anaerobic exercise helps promote muscle growth and allows your wheelchair-equipped family members to become more mobile.

Ultimately, many young wheelchair users can become dispirited at the idea of keeping fit. But with a little creativity and the help of an active community, you can make these activities more fun and ensure that proper exercise is achieved. Remember to regularly exercise the arms, shoulders, and chest, and work up a sweat through aerobic exercises, and you can ensure that your wheelchair-equipped youth begins a strong and healthy regimen for years to come.

Adaptive Sports Programs

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability maintains a directory of resources on adaptive sports, including wheelchair basketball, wheelchair softball, and more. Learn more about adaptive sports and find a program near you.