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Keeping active

Keeping active has lots of benefits. It can help to reduce some of the effects of being ill, such as stress, pain and fatigue. Even gentle movement can improve your mood and quality of life, and make you feel more in control. 

On this page:

Why we need exercise

We all need exercise for our bodies to function well. It helps us feel well physically and mentally. Exercise can help you physically by:

  • strengthening your body and giving you energy
  • improving your circulation and blood pressure
  • reducing symptoms like constipation, fatigue and shortness of breath

And it can benefit your mind by:

  • helping you to relax
  • helping you sleep better
  • improving your overall sense of wellbeing
  • reducing anxiety, stress and depression
  • improving your concentration and making you more alert

You can adapt the amount and type of exercise you do to suit your ability and energy levels. Talk to your doctor, nurse or hospice about an exercise programme that’s right for you.

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Types of exercise

Exercise doesn’t have to cost you money – and you don’t necessarily need to go to the gym.

Choose a type of exercise you enjoy, as this will help you to keep doing it regularly. Think about doing a group exercise class or activity, as company can make exercise feel easier too. Exercise will have longer-term benefits if it’s done regularly.

Climbing stairs, gardening, housework and even playing with children are all forms of exercise. Gentle movements can help to keep your muscles strong and prevent limbs from getting tight or stiff.

Other exercise suggestions include:

The benefits of walking

Walking regularly is one of the simplest forms of exercise. Walking around the garden or block for 10 minutes can be enough if you do it regularly. Find out more about walking for health  on the NHS Choices website.

Exercise for wheelchair users

Being a wheelchair user doesn’t need to stop you from doing exercise. You could try:

  • swimming
  • chairobics
  • using a rowing machine adapted for wheelchair use

Accessible swimming pools will have a ramp area to guide your chair to the edge of the water so that you can slide in. If there isn’t built-in access at your swimming pool, lift and stair systems should be available. You’re likely to need someone to assist you with using these. You can find out more about swimming aids for wheelchair users  on the Livestrong website.

Find out more about keeping fit in a wheelchair

These websites provide more information:

Simple exercises to do at home

You might like to try some of these suggestions for exercise at home:

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How much exercise

Your doctor, nurse or an occupational therapist can help you plan your own individual exercise programme.

The amount of exercise you do depends on how fit you are. If you haven’t exercised for a while, or aren’t very fit, you’ll need to allow your body time to adapt. Try doing a little, regularly, at the beginning. This may help to reduce any muscle pain and stiffness. It’s better to start off doing a small amount of exercise and build the amount up, rather than doing a large amount of exercise straightaway, as you may become very tired and feel put off from doing any more.

Some days you may have more energy than others, so you may need to vary how much time you spend exercising. Try to find a balance and the amount of exercise that’s right for you. Do as much or as little exercise as you can manage, but listen to your body and stop when you need to.

If you feel pain you should stop. It’s normal to experience tiredness for up to an hour after exercise, but if you still feel tired after two hours, reduce the amount you’re doing.

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Exercise safely

Always make sure you drink plenty of water when exercising to avoid getting dehydrated. Drink a glass of water for every 10 minutes of exercise, in addition to what you normally drink.

Try to exercise even when you don’t feel in the mood to do it, but stop if you feel dizzy, faint, sick, or experience any new pain. Rest and try again later. If the symptoms continue, stop and ask your doctor or nurse for advice.

If you have a disease that affects the bones, you should speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before exercising. If in doubt, always talk to your nurse or doctor.

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External websites

Age UK   – Keeping fit

NHS Choices   – Health and Fitness section

NHS Choices   – Fitness advice for wheelchair users 

NI Direct   – Sport and fitness

Livestrong.com   - Swimming Aids for the Disabled

Health exchange   – Fitness advice for wheelchair users

ElectricWheelchairs.co.uk   – How to stay fit and active in a wheelchair


This content is provided for general information purposes only. It's not medical, financial, legal or personal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. How our information is created and how it's used.

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