How to Lose Weight in a Wheelchair

by Fit After Fifty
Closeup of a person's hand dribbling a basketball on a wheelchair

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, 70.7 percent of Americans 20 and older are overweight, meaning that having an unhealthy weight is now the norm in the United States. Being overweight puts these individuals at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and many other health complications.

The tendencies to consume too many calories and exercise too little make weight gain easy, and especially so for wheelchair users, who are restricted in their mobility and may have a harder time determining how many calories to eat. But that doesn’t mean that losing weight in a wheelchair is impossible. Being aware of your weight, adjusting your diet, and finding ways to stay active are your best options to maintain optimal weight and health.

Determining if You Are Overweight

Determining if you are overweight isn’t as simple as just weighing yourself. Instead, you need to look at body mass index (BMI), which is a number that takes both your weight and height into account. Online calculators make measuring your BMI quick and easy.

BMI Weight Health
<18.5 Underweight
18.5-24.9 Healthy weight
25-29.9 Overweight
30+ Obese

However, BMI doesn’t always paint an accurate picture for those who have a disability, as their weight may be affected by certain health conditions. For that reason, consulting with a doctor may be the best way to determine if your weight is healthy if you are in a wheelchair, especially if you need help weighing yourself.

Becoming Overweight

When it comes to weight gain, those who use wheelchairs are at a disadvantage because they tend not to use their legs, which can lose muscle over time. Less muscle translates to fewer necessary calories.

But consuming too many calories can be hard for wheelchair users to avoid. If you’re surrounded by others who are more active and thus eat more, you may follow suit without thinking. Or if you have recently started using a wheelchair for the first time, you might continue eating as before, when you were burning more calories.

The best way to determine how much you should be eating is to consult with a dietitian. After you know your recommended daily calorie intake, you can work to adjust your diet and increase your fitness level, so that you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in and can start shedding pounds.

Adjusting Your Diet

An effective plan to lose weight requires counting calories to ensure that you’re not eating more than your recommended daily calorie intake. The amount of calories in some foods may surprise you! Check out what 100 calories looks like for 25 common foods to get an idea.

When planning your meals, remember that quality matters just as much as quantity. Go easy on sugary and fatty options, and incorporate the following foods on a daily basis to have a healthy and balanced diet:

  • Five servings of fruit and vegetables
  • Starches, such as potatoes, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and brown bread
  • Dairy sources, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Nondairy protein sources, such as eggs, fish, meat, and beans

Staying Active

Leading an active lifestyle is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight. Burning more calories than you consume will help you lose weight and reach your fitness goals.

Your workouts should contain a combination of cardiovascular and strengthening exercises. Cardiovascular exercise, in particular, is necessary for weight loss, so try to find activities that make you sweat, get your heart pumping, and make you breathe faster.

If you think this sounds impossible, think again. Wheelchair users have a number of ways to stay active, including the following:

  • Push yourself in your wheelchair. Rather than letting someone push you or taking a car or bus, push yourself to your destination. This will work out your arms and even get your heart rate up, if you’re working hard enough.
  • Hit the gym. Many gyms have a variety of options for those in wheelchairs, including weight machines and adapted rowing machines.
  • Swim some laps. Complete control of your limbs isn’t necessary for swimming, so wheelchair users can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of swimming, too. Plus, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public pools have accessible entries and exits.
  • Play wheelchair sports. Popular wheelchair sports include basketball, netball, badminton, and tennis, all of which provide an excellent cardiovascular workout. Check out the Team USA site to find a Paralympic Sports Club in your area.

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