A woman in a wheelchair plays tennis

Exercising With Limited Mobility to Manage Type 2 Diabetes

Last updated: September 2022

Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of managing type 2 diabetes. As we move our bodies and stretch muscles, we build strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. Regular exercise for people with type 2 diabetes also increases insulin sensitivity and reduces the likelihood of developing complications.

But for people with limited mobility, along with type 2 diabetes, the standard exercise goals might be unachievable. For people who cannot stand unaided, step goals can be meaningless. For people with a limited range of motion, weight lifting goals can prove frustrating.

Yet we cannot ignore how vital physical activity is for supporting our overall health. For better health, we have to find a way to exercise whatever our physical boundaries.

Here are some ideas on how we can do this.

Rethink your exercise goals

Exercise goals are often expressed as hard numbers: steps walked, minutes to run a mile, pounds bench pressed, and reps completed. However, you can set exercise goals in other ways that aren't so concrete.

Improvement-based goals

You can measure improvement-based goals as being able to do an activity for longer or moving your joints more freely. These goals start with where you are, support working at your own pace, and recognize changes along the way.

Enjoyment-based goals

You're more likely to exercise if you're having fun while you're doing it! If you like the camaraderie of being part of a team, then playing a sport might be your thing. If it's quiet that you yearn for, then tai chi might be a better choice for you. Exercise shouldn't be a punishment or a penance.

Define your exercise goals on your own terms based on the physical capabilities you wish to enhance or improve. Take time to reflect on what you like and dislike about a particular physical activity, and let that shape your goals.

Seek proper accommodations

Living with limited mobility means you can't do everything — at least not in the manner most people are used to. Look for an adaptive sports organization to get more information about sports and exercise practices adapted for limited mobility.

Several exercise practices are specifically designed for people with limited mobility. Some of them can be done while sitting or lying down. Others use adaptive equipment. These include stretching, body weight movements, and using resistance bands.

Wheelchair sports

Plenty of physical activities have also been transformed to accommodate people with limited mobility. Wheelchair sports have become more and more common. Everything from basketball and tennis to hockey has been adapted to playing in a wheelchair.

Water-based activities

Exercising in water or a pool is another accommodation, either as water aerobics, dance classes, or swimming. The buoyancy of the water eases the body's movement and can minimize joint pain.

Define your own exercise routine

In defining your exercise routine, here are a few things to consider:

  • Focus on your priorities. Exercising can build strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility. Exercise can also reduce anxiety and depression and improve cognitive function. If increasing flexibility is your priority, focusing on stretching exercises might be a good start. Spending time outdoors can lift your mood. Whatever your priorities are, look for supportive physical activities.
  • Emphasize the activities that you enjoy most. Exercise doesn't have to mean getting all sweaty or going to a crowded gym. Physical activity can be pleasant, even fun. Aim for the kind of exercise that you enjoy.
  • Make physical activity a routine. Enjoying the benefits of exercise only happens if you make physical activity part of your self-care routine. Consistency is what makes improvement possible. Ideally, you will find a way to be active nearly every day.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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