Exercise with limited mobility

How can I exercise with limited mobility? My right wrist took the brunt of a fall.
My right wrist got the brunt of a fall

I took a tumble not quite 2 weeks ago and injured my right arm. My wrist got the worst of it – it’s still giving me trouble. So much so that I can’t put much weight on it and it hurts to bend it sometimes. So – how to exercise with limited mobility?

Not even a plank

As you know, my favorite form of exercise combines strength and cardio. But such exercise with limited mobility is practically impossible. Body weight strength exercises are great, but a plank is out of the question for me.

To not exercise is also out of the question. It’s such a habit for me that if I’m home and not doing anything else at the time I usually exercise, the guilt is practically overwhelming. So the last few days I’ve been exercising without weights and with limited arm involvement. I know that when my arm is better, I’ll have a lot of catching up to do, but I’m grateful the injury isn’t worse.

So what exercise to do?

So, what exercise have I been doing with my arm out of commission? I’ve been cardio-bingeing. I’ve been doing my walk / run on the treadmill. And I’ve rediscovered the fun of step aerobics. I talked about doing step aerobics as a great stress-reducer a while ago, but it really is a super workout. Even with the risers lower than I used to have them, the sweat was dripping off my face.

Others deal with limited mobility

My injury made me think about how others exercise with limited mobility. If (heaven forbid) my wrist injury became more permanent, I would certainly investigate the possibility of swimming in my area. Swimming is a great, non-weight-bearing cardio exercise with other benefits as well. Walking outside is certainly another possibility. If the weather warms up again here and I’m still recovering, I may take to the greenway path nearby. And I may queue up some favorite songs and dance.

Limited mobility is no excuse to not exercise

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone, at any age, have physical activity to maintain their good health. In fact, all adults, with or without disabilities, according to the CDC’s Guidelines should get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of aerobic physical activity per week. However, the CDC has found that less than half of those with disabilities and limited mobility engage in aerobic physical activity. They’ve put together a resource for those with limited mobility to get ideas for getting the activity they need.

I’ve certainly gained new respect for people who stay motivated to exercise with limited mobility. It takes extra gumption to find ways to stay as active as they need to be, given the barriers society puts in their way.

Exercise can save you money

Exercise can help you save money.

You’ll be happier if you exercise.

And you’ll attract people to you if you’re not scowling – you’ll make more friends.

Exercise can save you money

Don’t believe me? A HealthPartners Research Foundation research study showed that people over 50 years old who started exercising only 90 minutes per week saved about $2,200 per year in medical costs. And a CDC study showed that older people who visited a health club twice a week saved over $1,200 more in healthcare costs than those who visited a health club less than that.

Sounds good to me.

How this makes sense

Exercise does more for you than just increase physical fitness. Exercise can save you money.
Exercise does more for you than just increase physical fitness. Exercise can save you money.

And it makes sense. If you’re exercising, you’re getting fitter. And you’re getting healthier. We’ve talked many times about the health benefits of exercising – It can lower your blood pressure and boost your good cholesterol (HDL). Exercise promotes better blood flow, and decreases the risk of heart disease. Plus, it can help prevent or manage other health concerns like diabetes and stroke.

Exercise has also been proven to ward off many types of cancer. Anecdotally, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a cold. Even before we all started to wear masks all the time, it had been several years since I’ve been laid low by illness (knock on wood – don’t want to jinx myself…).

Happiness after exercise

Exercise is also a mood-lifter. Those post-exercise endorphins are no myth. After a workout I’m happier and easier to be around. Just ask my sister. Exercise helps you sleep better too. And a good night’s sleep is a must-have for happiness. The world seems brighter after I burn a few hundred calories! And after a good workout there’s no guilt at eating a healthy dinner. 

Exercise can save you money and attract people to you!

If you’re happier and in a good mood, you’ll be easier to be around. No scowls – more friends. People will want to be closer to you. Even with a mask on, people know if you’re scowling! More friends = more happiness. A better outlook on life. And all from a couple hours of exercise.

Your workout may be easier with a friend

Your workout may be easier with a friend to cheer you on.
Working out with a friend makes it easier.

Your workout may be easier with a friend. After all, you’ll be sharing the misery. What’s that old saying – “Misery loves company?” Is that because if it’s shared it doesn’t feel like torture? Or because you can laugh at each other’s funny faces as you grimace through the hard parts? 

You’re doing the work

Exercise, unless you’re doing specific pairs exercises, though, is a solitary endeavor. When you run, it’s your legs doing the work. Not someone else’s. It’s you who is lifting that heavy weight. You’re the one who is struggling to stay on her feet as you near the finish line. And you are the only one responsible for your success – or your failure.

A friend’s motivation can help

But a friend can really keep you motivated on your fitness journey. It’s not easy at the best of times to stay on the straight and narrow path of an exercise program. Someone to talk to, to commiserate with, can help you stick with your plan. You may hate the same exercises, and dread when a certain yoga pose is coming up in the flow. And you can agree that the best part of a workout is the final stretch and cool-down.

You don’t even have to be together

But in these days of pandemic separation, how do you exercise with a friend? Many gyms have closed. You’re nervous about being out of breath with a mask on. You don’t even want to be close to other people. 

To get the support of a friend, though, you don’t actually have to exercise together or even do the same workout. You can both exercise and then arrange to get on a Zoom or Facetime call at a specific time to talk about your respective workouts. That might even be more fun than exercising together – because it’s really hard to talk if your workout is effective! You’ll have the accountability we all need to stick to an exercise program. And it’s fun to complain with someone who knows exactly what you’re experiencing.

Important for support and accountability

I wrote about the importance of having your friends and family support your healthy lifestyle plan a while ago. It’s still important to have that support and accountability. Your friends and family are your support system, which we all need to be happy and resilient these days. Yes, it’s possible to go it alone. You can stick to any plan you design. But it’s easier with others.

If you miss a day or two

You’re a few weeks into your new, “healthy you” plan and things are going fine. You have good days and days that it’s a struggle, but you’re making it through. You’ve been sweating up a storm but eating (mostly) right. But you’re starting to wonder, what happens if you miss a day or two. You may have a trip planned and you don’t know if you’ll be able to do your workouts. And if you’re on someone else’s timetable, you don’t know what the meal situation is going to be like. You’re worried that if you miss some time that your plan will be completely undone.

First, take a breath and celebrate

First, take a minute and celebrate your successes! It’s not easy sticking with a healthy plan for a few days, much less a few weeks. And you’ve done it! You’ve stuck with it! You should be incredibly proud of yourself.

But if you miss a couple of days

But that trip is coming up, and you’re concerned. Know that if you miss a day or two, it’s not the end of the road. You may eat things that aren’t on your meal plan. You may miss a few workouts. But you can’t plan your entire life around your workouts. Things happen.

It’s OK. The world will not end.

It’s OK if you miss a day or two. Or even more than that. The world will not end, and you’ll be fine.

The key is to get back on the plan as quickly as you can. And while you may not be able to completely stick with your meal plan while you’re away or your schedule is disrupted, try to eat as sensibly as you can. Don’t think to yourself, “I can’t do my plan, and I don’t want to be impolite and ask for separate food, so that’s it. I’m done.”

Eat sensibly and move!

No. Eat as sensibly as you can. Try to limit high-fat and high-sugar items. Say, “Thank you, but no” to all the sweets your host offers you. (Or just have one of your absolute favorites.) Stick as closely to your own meal plan as possible without being rude.

And get what exercise you can. Suggest walks outside. If you’re staying at a hotel, check out the fitness center. 

Back to normal

You may not want to go all out when you get back to your routine after you miss a day or two.

When you get back to your normal routine, assess where you are. Get back to your healthy eating plan as quickly as possible. You may have gained a couple of pounds, but they’ll come off when you’re back to your plan.

And you may want to ease back into your exercise program a little more slowly. If you miss a day or two, you probably won’t lose momentum. But more than that and if you go back to full exertion, you could be sore for a couple of days. So, modify the intensity a bit for the first few days. And if your muscles are sore the next day, it’s normal. Follow these suggestions to feel better – Drink more, stay active and don’t sit too long. And remember that the sooner you get back to your routine, the easier it will be.

You’ll get back to your fitness routine in no time! You’ll be improving your health and increasing your resilience. There’s no need to quit if you miss a day or two in your fitness journey – you’re just taking a little break.

What happens after you start

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to start exercising. You’ve chosen the program you’re going to use. You have your workout gear and a spiffy new pair of sneakers. Now what? What happens after you start to exercise?

Commitment to your health

It’s been a few days. The initial exhilaration  of the newness of your exercise routine has worn off. You’re starting to realize that exercise may not get easier as time goes on. 

It never gets easier even after you start to exercise.

You’re right! And that’s the point. Exercise will not get easier. In order for you to get all the benefits of exercise (improved cognition, increase bone density, increase strength), you have to challenge yourself every day. Of course, the point is not to challenge yourself until you’re ready to drop, but at the end of a workout you should feel like you really can’t do any more without some recovery time. Your final cooldown and stretch should be absolute bliss. After a cardio workout you should be warm and sweating. And after a strength workout you should feel like you couldn’t do another push-up if your life depended on it – at least for a half hour or so.

You know that old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” The same applies to exercise. Exercise is tough – you’re tougher. You’re exercising to reap those health benefits I mentioned above. And know that you’re not alone. Exercise is hard every day for me. It should be hard every day for everyone.

Make it a habit

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about habits. It takes about 3 weeks for anything to become a habit. If you do the same thing at pretty much the same time every day (or almost every day) for 3 weeks, the better the chances that it will become a habit. The same for exercise. I work out in the late afternoon 4 or 5 times a week. I get home, walk the dogs, check on the bearded dragon, get the mail, change my clothes and exercise. That’s my routine. We humans love routine. Exercise is a part of mine. A few weeks after you start to exercise, it will be part of your routine too. But before exercise becomes a routine, you must put thought and deliberation into it.

I’ve emphasized the use of a calendar or planner in the past. If you’re serious about making that commitment to your health, make appointments with yourself to exercise. (Here is Zapier’s ranking of the best calendar apps for 2021.) Four days a week for the next three weeks – just write it in or make a repeating event on your digital calendar. And keep that date with yourself. You’ll find that in a few weeks, you’ll start your workout routine as a matter of course. Remember that you’re doing this not only for you, but for those who depend on you. Like an oxygen mask on an airplane – when they drop, put yours on first so that you can take care of others.

How do you start to exercise

You know you should start to exercise. (Why Exercise? – an article I wrote several years ago.) As we get older, everyone keeps telling us to keep moving. It’s good for our bones, our backs, our joints. But there’s so much out there – it’s information overload! Where do you start? How can you start something that you don’t know how to do?

Your friends say you should do Pilates. And yoga looks interesting. Your best friend does Tai Chi. Walking is good. Your grandkids tell you to do kick-boxing. The “experts” on TV tell you to do something else. 

And so you do nothing. I get it. You know your couch – it’s comfy and it’s safe. You don’t have to risk anything sitting on your couch.

I’ve told you to get ideas on YouTube. And there are loads of free workouts there. But how do you start to exercise?

Assess your abilities

A chair workout is great for those with limited mobility.

A good way to start is to first figure out what you CAN do. Can you walk for any distance? If you can – great. If you get out of breath after half a block, you may want to start with chair exercises. That’s a great way to start to exercise if you’ve never done it. Chair exercise programs can be just the place to start for people with limited mobility. You can begin to increase your strength and stamina sitting down.

If your mobility is good, and your physician has given you the OK to start an exercise program, then decide what you like.

Look to the future

Exercise is not something that you start and then finish. Once you’ve decided to start to exercise, you’re in it for life. So the exercise you choose to do should be something that you can see yourself doing in six months, a year, two years in the future. Keep in mind that you’ll be exercising a few times a week – the CDC recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, plus additional strength work 2 days a week.

If you already walk with friends but you’re looking for something a little more intense, perhaps try some dance workouts. If you like country music, look for a country music workout program – same for jazz or rock. Go for a structured workout with simple choreography to start. Instructors can increase the complexity as you progress. There are even ballet workouts for those of us who don’t want to perform, but love the movements.

If dance isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to try Pilates or Yoga. These will increase flexibility and strength. These programs can also provide cardio benefits.

Then what?

How do you start to exercise - make sure there's somewhere to progress as you improve.

When you’ve poked around YouTube and decided on the kind of exercise you’d like to start with, find an instructor you ”click” with. You understand their cuing of the moves, you like the music, they’re personable and you don’t mind the sound of their voice. Make sure that they have different levels of programs – when the beginner workout becomes too easy, you’ll want to move on. You always want to challenge yourself – that’s how you grow.

If you want to stick to your walking regimen – great! But on days that are not conducive to walking outside, know that there are exercise programs that simulate walking – indoors. 

But, actually, how do you start to exercise?

You’ve made the plunge – you’ve subscribed to your workout program – then what? 

Cue it up on your laptop or TV! Change into comfortable exercise gear (including well-fitting shoes made for the activity you’ve chosen). Make sure the furniture and dogs are out of the way. 

And push “play.”

Remember, any time you start a new activity, you may not be very good at it. The moves may seem awkward. That’s OK. Keep practicing. It will get easier. And be careful. If anything doesn’t feel good, stop. The last thing you want is to injure yourself. 

Also be aware that you may experience muscle soreness in 24 hours. That’s completely natural. But, you don’t want it to be debilitating, so don’t push yourself too hard your first couple of workouts.

And have fun.

It’s easy when it becomes a habit

How do you do it? That’s the question I get. Have the mindset to work out almost every day, eat right and not just go crazy? The answer: It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

There has been lots written about habits and tracking habits lately (like James Clear’s Atomic Habits) – but none from the perspective of a 65-year-old woman with gray hair who runs her dogs in Agility. So, for all you young-at-heart old ladies out there who may or may not run their dogs in Agility, this is for you. 

3 weeks to a habit

Generally speaking, it takes about 3 weeks of doing something for it to become a habit. Like flossing your teeth. Every night. Set an alarm on your phone for five minutes before the time you usually brush your teeth at night – when you look at your phone.

Or like using a new kind of calendar or daily planner. In order for a tool like this to work for you, you have to use it regularly. Enter your appointments, meetings and reminders when you make that appointment or think of something you need to be reminded of in the future. But then you have to remember to check your calendar regularly so that you don’t miss anything. So a cheat may be necessary – like a post-it note on your monitor to check your calendar. Or an alarm on your phone set to not-quite first thing in the morning. These “cheats” make it easier to remember what you want to remember to do – before these activities become real habits.

The exercise habit was not easy

Having exercise become a habit was not easy for me. I was a fat kid. I was bullied unmercifully through junior high school. Home economics was a requirement for girls my freshman year of high school. I was so proud of my little chocolate pudding tart that I took home on the bus so my mom and sister could enjoy it with me … Until a boy teased me, saying that a “fattie like me didn’t need that pie,” and tossed the tart onto my shirt. Chocolate and whipped cream was everywhere. That was the day I vowed to lose weight. 

jumping rope helped me lose weight and start an exercise habit.

So after school all that year, I jumped rope on our patio – a concrete slab behind the house. I lost the weight and have (mostly) kept it off. I guess I should try to remember who that kid was and thank him. (Probably not going to happen…) Jumping rope was the easiest way I could think of to exercise. Cheap, and burned a lot of calories. 

That was an easy habit to keep. I was motivated. 

But now it’s easy when it becomes a habit

A habit should not be a convenience. A habit is something you do without fail. No matter what. I wrote about this a while ago – Life happens. It’s not an excuse. A habit – and if you’re consciously making a habit, then it’s important – is something you make time for.

I make time several times a week for exercise. Exercise has become a habit. So, changing clothes, shifting the dogs to their comfy downstairs beds and pushing “play” is just what I do – many days without thinking. It’s easy when it becomes a habit.

And planning the next week’s meals and shopping lists is a habit now. It’s just something that needs to get done, so I don’t whine about it. I don’t look for other things to do instead of the task. I just do it.

Exercise with an injury?

I did something not very bright yesterday. I slammed my little toe into something very hard. It may or may not be broken, but it’s turning vivid colors. Even if it is broken, there’s not a whole lot that can be done for little toes, so I’m just going to leave it alone. But the question is, can I exercise with an injury?

And the answer is simple: if it hurts when I’m doing the exercise, then, no.

But – there are lots of things that I can do without using my foot or my toe.

No running for me!

Obviously, running is out, as is a step aerobics class. But, if I want to get my heart rate up, cycling is a great option. That kind of exercise with an injury would be fantastic. It burns a lot of calories, and as long as the pedal placement is good, a bike ride is a good choice.

Pilates using a resistance band is  a good way to exercise with an injury to my toe.

Pilates is also a good choice – it may not be as intense as an aerobic activity, but a good mat Pilates class with resistance bands (and I do have a great one) that is done with sneakers on, is great for toning and strengthening – especially the core.

I will probably not choose yoga today for my exercise. While there’s no impact, many standing poses in yoga bend the toes at acute angles. That even sounds like it hurts.

Exercise with an injury to my shoulder

In the past, I’ve also exercised with an injury to my shoulder (very painful dislocation). As long as I avoided exercises that aggravated the injury, it was great. And there’s a lot more to your body that you can exercise than the injured part! While my shoulder was healing, I did a lot of aerobics.

The first day or so after a traumatic injury I would certainly not exercise. Let the body rest and recover. And, here’s the most important advice: if it hurts, don’t do it.

Should you exercise with an injury?

Even if you can, another question is, should you exercise with an injury? For me, and this particular injury – yes. This injury is so minor and is such a small portion of me, that I would feel incredibly guilty using my poor, little blue toe as an excuse to not exercise. (Guilt is one of the ways that I motivate myself to work out.) So I will work out today. I will take precautions to make sure that I don’t make it worse, but I am certainly planning on working out. For other injuries – it depends. For major injuries – maybe not. But if it’s easy to exercise other portions of the body, certainly.

Be mindful and aware

Be mindful of how you’re feeling – the injured portion, as well as the rest of you. If you’re just using your injury as an excuse – get over it. A broken toe is no excuse for stuffing my face and lying around.

But always follow your doctor’s orders.

Get energized and exercise

We’re all suffering from sleep deprivation, and it would be really easy to just yawn and say, “I’ll work out tomorrow…” and take a nap. But we need to get energized and exercise! 

That reminds me of the saying, “Rise and shine!” and one of my favorite movie lines. In one scene in “The Great Race” (which has THE BEST pie fight scene ever!), Natalie Wood chirps to Jack Lemmon, playing the mustachio-twirling villain, “Rise and shine!” To which Jack Lemmon snarls, “You rise and you shine!”  

But in all seriousness, it is possible to fill yourself with energy and the get-up-and-go to, well, get up and go exercise. And not with calorie-laden caffeine drinks or sugar-filled candy.

So, how can you get energized and exercise if all you want to do is lie down and sleep?


Get energized and exercise. Breathe deeply and get more oxygen flowing.

Decide that you’re going to change your clothes into your workout gear, turn on your exercise program if you do a stream or DVD, or get stretched out for your run. Just decide. And go change.

Then stretch, shake your arms out, do a few marching steps, take a deep breath and exercise.

Not that easy

Sure, sure – it’s easy for me to say that. And yes – I have lived it. Ever raise a puppy? They have to go outside every couple of hours to maintain their housebreaking training. If it’s your responsibility to see to the puppy, you’re sleep-deprived. Or have a newborn baby? Same goes. Chronic sleep deprivation.

But, you have to take it as a given that certain things are worth going without sleep. Like a well-trained puppy. Or a happy baby. 

So you accept the fact that you’re not going to be sleeping much. And decide that certain things must be accomplished. Like exercise – because the benefits of exercise are many. Plus, just the act of exercise replenishes energy. It doesn’t make sense, does it – expend energy to replenish energy. 

Expend energy to replenish energy

But, think about it – when you exercise you’re breathing more deeply. You’re getting more oxygen and it’s making its way into your lungs, through your bloodstream and into your brain, providing more energy. Same thing with meditation – you’re focusing on your breathing and getting more oxygen.

Self-care is important

While you’re losing sleep, it’s important to take special care of yourself in other ways. Hydration is important every day, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water – good old H20 – and eating right. Be sure to eat lots of veggies and fruit, whole grains and lean protein. Grab a nap when you can, and you’re not supposed to be exercising! And you’ll be more inclined to get energized and exercise.

Set goals – big and little

Are you retired? Still working? Working on not working? Regardless – it’s important to set goals for yourself. The way we grow is to set goals and challenge ourselves, in whatever area we choose. And, don’t limit yourself to one area. If you’re still working, great! Set goals – big and little – for yourself professionally, but also personally. 

I work for myself in a number of enterprises. I set goals for the business and for myself. One goal is to create a course relating to self-discipline that my readers (you!) will find useful in your fitness journey. My sister tells me that I have more discipline than anyone else she knows, so hopefully that expertise will help others. I’m writing my modules and hope to have a course by the end of the summer.

Another of my personal goals is to complete 10 regular pushups (from my toes). Pushups from my knees are no problem. And incline pushups are easy as well. I’m at about 4 or 5 regular ones now, so I’ll keep working at it.

To grow means that there’s work involved. Many people think the word “work” has a negative connotation. Meaning that work is bad. I don’t see it that way. Work is serious, yes, because my goals are serious to me. It’s hard. And work is challenging. But it can be fun. And the results: downright delightful.

I have fun when I work. I try to have fun all the time. Just because I’m trying to accomplish something doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun with it. Fun makes the work easier.

Big goals

When you have a BIG GOAL, it can seem intimidating and not at all fun. The secret to achieving that BIG GOAL is to chop it into smaller, more manageable goals and incorporate some fun into it if possible. And big goals can seem crushingly hard, unless you’re committed to its success. I wrote about that just a couple of weeks ago.

For example, if, as my sister and I did, you had to move all of your grandmother’s things into your house and then, after living with the clutter for a couple of years, decide to declutter – that’s an impossible goal to manage all at once. So we thought about the best way to tackle the job and came up with the strategy of: one room at a time, in fifteen to twenty minute chunks.

We started with a corner of one room, set up our three stations: throw away (for things that we could not see anyone having a use for, ever), donate (for things that we couldn’t see ourselves using) and keep (for things we couldn’t bear to give up). We worked for fifteen minutes every day, and in a matter of months the job was complete.

A side note: don’t ever feel badly about keeping something when you’re trying to declutter. You’re entitled to your feelings. Think about the item. Will you be sorry if you never see it again? You can always get rid of something but you can’t get it back.

And the goal of losing weight. If you have more than 3 pounds to lose, that’s a BIG GOAL. It’s hard and needs to be addressed as a true achievement. Intermediate goals should be set and addressed.

Little goals

I practice my balance every day by standing on one foot for a minute while I brush my teeth. That’s a total of two minutes, which is how long we’re supposed to brush our teeth. My little goal is to not put a toe down before the time is up. My reward if I’m successful? Well, in this case, just the knowledge that I’m growing stronger and my balance is improving. I’ve been doing this long enough that the exercise is a habit.

But your little goals can range from substituting a piece of fruit for the candy you usually eat in the afternoon, to focusing on work for an extra five minutes. And then reward yourself with a big stretch or an extra round of Spider Solitaire.

My goal of 10 regular pushups is a medium-sized goal. It’s big enough that it needs to get chopped up and intermediate goals set, but not big enough that it will take months. And when I reach that goal? I’ll think of another.