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Categories > Exercise and Fitness > Getting started exercising

Overcoming physical barriers
A little is a lot
When movement is limited

5 reasons to take to the water
5 reasons to take to the water

Swimming and water workouts can boost your flexibility, aerobic fitness and muscular strength and endurance. Consider these great reasons to hit the pool:

  1. Water boosts your circulation, improving your cardiovascular health.
  2. Water lessens gravity’s pull, so you can stretch better than you can on land.
  3. Water’s pressure on your muscles can reduce swelling and ease pain.
  4. Water offers resistance that strengthens your muscles when you push against it.
  5. Water’s buoyancy supports your weight and reduces stress on weight-bearing joints, bones and muscles. You’re less likely to be injured.

When to get help
When to get help

A little soreness the day after exercising can be normal, but if pain persists, tell your healthcare provider. Call for emergency help if you experience:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • balance problems
  • nausea

Getting some form of exercise is good for you no matter what your age or health condition—and that means people who are elderly or have a disability or chronic illness can benefit from exercise, too. Your healthcare provider can help you develop a program designed for your individual needs (and be sure to get his or her OK before you start).

A little is a lot

For the greatest rewards, aim for some physical activity every day or at least four or five times a week. Experts recommend you exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, but you can break up activity into shorter periods, say three to six daily 10-minute sessions. Include cardiovascular endurance, strength training and stretching as part of your routine. A general guideline to follow is the 3-2-1 principle: For every hour of exercise, spend 30 minutes on cardiovascular activity, 20 minutes on strength training and 10 minutes stretching.

Stick to low-impact activities that are easy on the joints, such as:

  • Walking. Start with short strolls and gradually increase your distance. If weather interferes with your routine, try your local mall. Many malls let walkers come early before stores open.
  • Swimming or water exercising. Working out in water is a gentle way to exercise joints and muscles, especially for people who have arthritis, osteoporosis or mobility problems.
  • Bicycling. Cycling is a good calorie burner that provides an aerobic workout and builds leg muscles without stressing joints.
  • Tai chi. The slow movements of this mind-body exercise can help improve your balance and flexibility.
  • Gardening. Raking, hoeing, pruning and digging are great exercises to strengthen your arms, legs and back.
  • Group exercise classes and/or exercise videos. Many senior centers and health clubs offer classes specially tailored for older adults, such as chair aerobics or gentle chair yoga. If you’d prefer to stay home, check out the many exercise videos and DVDs available on the Internet. (Collage Video at offers a variety of chair dancing and seated exercise videos. And Jack La Lanne offers a “Back to Basics” chair exercise video, available at

When movement is limited

If you’re disabled, frail, use a wheelchair or have other health challenges, you can still exercise. Here are a few exercise ideas:

  • Use elastic resistance bands or tubing to strengthen your muscles. You can remain seated while using this lightweight, inexpensive and easy-to-use equipment. People who use wheelchairs tend to overuse certain muscles, so it’s important to train those underused muscles.
  • Use “cuff” weights that wrap around your wrists or ankles with Velcro if you have difficulty holding on to dumbbells.
  • Wheel yourself in your wheelchair. Aim to raise your heart rate by wheeling yourself in an open area for 10 to 30 minutes at a time.
  • Shoot some hoops. You can play wheelchair basketball at home or, for more intense activity, consider joining a team. Contact the National Wheelchair Basketball Association at (719) 266-4082 or to find a league near you.
  • Try a hand, or arm-driven, cycle. These specially made bicycles are modified so you can pedal with your hands and arms.
  • Stretch. Flexibility exercise is an important component of your fitness program because it helps maintain range of motion. If you have a spinal cord injury, it’s particularly essential to prevent muscles from becoming permanently shortened.

In most cases, everyone can do something—but only your healthcare provider can say what’s right for you.