Cardio exercise for person with bad leg?

To put it bluntly, I’m in extremely poor physical condition. Overweight and with high blood pressure and a bum knee - I’m a limping poster child for a heart attack before I hit 50 years old. I need exercise, particularly cardio that my leg can handle. Walking extensively is next to impossible. A round trip to the grocery store is eight blocks and I wanted to cut my leg off before I was finished. Running is right out of the question.

The best option I’ve found is to use an old exercise bike that was given to me. This bike is placed on a tall table, I sit in an office chair in front of the bike and crank the pedals by hand. I’ve been trying to do this for at least 30 minutes, twice a day. Obviously this is better than sitting in the chair and watching YouTube videos but is this likely to do me any good? My instinct is that anything that gets my heart rate up will help but do you have any suggestion to improve my results.

I have access to a low impact elliptical but it’s a twenty mile drive to use it. The little I’ve used it seemed to be OK on my knee but I’m not sure it’s worth it. While the weather is still nice, I’m going to try to hit the public pool and see if swimming laps works for me. Decades ago, this was almost a meditative stress reliever for me and I certainly consider it worth a shot. Thoughts? Other exercise suggestions?

I have an appointment with my doctor to try to get me on track for a surgical evaluation and possible repair of my knee. I will discuss all this with her at that time. Do you have any specific points that you feel I should bring up with her?

Upper body ergometer.

I broke my pelvis in a climbing fall last year. I was non-weight-bearing (in a wheelchair) for two months. I wanted to start getting exercise as soon as possible, and after consultation with docs I got a recumbent exercise bike. No impact, and all your body weight is supported more stably than an upright bike. I was able to start using it while still in the wheelchair. Most effective cardio will involve your knee to some degree (and I assume that ultimately you do want to condition your legs) but the recumbent at least puts you in a stable and controlled position where you can build from very gentle resistance.

This was the one I got, Nautilus R616. Seems to be well made for the price.

If there’s a deep enough pool close to you. You can try out the water aerobics or water ‘running’, which would involve wearing a float around the waist. I’ve never done it personally so I don’t know what the ‘running’ will do to a knee, but I suspect you can pull yourself through the water and not use your legs at all really.

Swimming can be good and the legs are not as important. I know a lot of runners switch to swimming when their knees go bad. If you’re not a great swimmer and want your legs to stay high in the water you can get a wetsuit that’s just a swim suit or just the legs. You would NOT want a full wetsuit in a pool or you’ll over heat. There are pull bouys that you can use to keep the legs up, but those can be a pain to use since you have to squeeze your legs together to it from coming out.

Find a gym with a water aerobics class. It’s a great place for you to get a good workout without a lot of stress on your joints. How the class works is that you are in standing in the pool and the instructor guides you through a workout. While standing, you move your arms and legs in the water to get a workout without any impact. There may also be paddles and such that you hold in your hands to provide more resistance. Water aerobics classes are excellent for overweight people with poor fitness since the water will support much of your weight and avoid injury to your joints. Many gyms will let you go for a few days to try it out before you sign up. Try it at a few gyms to see if you like the class and which gym you like the best.

As you’re looking at gyms, also look at the equipment they offer. There is an exercise machine exactly like what you’re doing with the bike. You sit on the machine and grab the grips with your hands and move it in a circle. Some gyms may have that kind of machine.

Also consider working with a personal trainer if you can afford it. They can create a custom workout based on your level and ability. They also can be great for motivation.

And you may also want to look into your diet as a way to combat your weight. Exercise can be a great catalyst for losing weight, but weight loss will be minimal if you don’t also evaluate your diet. It’s still incredibly beneficial to exercise even if you don’t lose a pound, so start that even if you don’t change your diet.

if you want to get out of the house, the road going equivalent is a handcycle. Most can handle up to 250 lbs., the Excelerator can go to 350 lbs.
There are also a number of other companies that make handcycles.

My physical therapy clinic has a gym associated with it. It’s a good setup, they get a lot of business from people like me who “graduate” from formal physical therapy and then want to keep on doing self-directed rehabilitation training. So they have some equipment that would be less common in a regular gym, like commercial hand crank machines that are robust enough that you can get a decent workout with them.

Thanks but not adequately robust for my frame.

Interesting but this is a medium term solution at the earliest. I need to develop a stronger exercise habit and discuss it with my doc before I invest in such a machine.

I could be wrong but I don’t see how this is superior to what I have now.

Water aerobics could be helpful. We have aYMCA not far from here that I will investigate.

Can you do punches and similar exercises? They can be remarkably good exercise. Combine that with non-impact resistance work like all the varieties of leg lifts and crunches and the like and you can work your way up to some pretty intense workouts that won’t hurt your knees.

A quality rebounder (think mini trampoline) might be good. You can bounce in a way that puts more of the load on your good leg. I got one for my home gym. It’s a lot of fun, and there are a lot more exercise options than just bouncing up and down. Lots of videos available on Youtube.

I didn’t start exercising until I was 43. I’m now 50, down 40lbs from my highest weight, and feel good. You can do it. :slight_smile:

Right now, my (very fluid) plan is to discuss this with my GP and the orthopedist she recommends to me and see what they say. If I can consistently stick with my currant use of the hand cranked exercise bike for a few weeks then I’ll check out the gym at the YMCA and just experiment. Go to the gym three times a week trying at least one new exercise option each time and just see what works. It’s pretty expensive for me at the moment but something has to change and a properly equipped gym may help keep me motivated. It’s all I can think to do right now.

To be honest, this scares the hell out of me. Even on two good legs, my balance wasn’t great. No way I would do this at the YMCA. I know I would take a bad bounce, go off on a tangent and take out a family of four. It’s not worth the headlines.

If you’re completely new to exercise, I would recommend doing a group class (like water aerobics) for a few reasons:

  • More likely to use correct form. The instructor will provide guidance and corrections to make sure you are doing the exercise properly for maximum benefit and reduced chance for injury.

  • More likely to work out longer and more strenuously. Because someone is providing instructions, you are more likely to follow along for the whole class and do a complete workout. When working out on your own, there may be the tendency to do an easier workout or stop sooner.

  • More likely to enjoy the activity. The instructor is providing music and there is a lot of variation in movements. This means you are less likely to get bored and stop.

  • More likely to be motivated to go more often. Whether because you enjoy the activity or enjoy working out with people, it’s often easier to do group workouts rather than do solitary workouts.

Of course, all of that is dependent on the individual. Some people may prefer working out alone instead of with a group. But in general, I feel most novices will be better in the long run by starting out with group workouts instead of doing solo activities.

I bring this up because I often feel that newbies are reluctant to try group classes. They start with treadmills or whatever, get bored and quit. If instead they started with a group class, I feel they would not get bored as quickly and be more likely to stick with exercise.

All valid points and I accept your logic. Here’s the problem - I’m extremely self conscious about my physical condition. My worry is that I’d join some group and that within ten minutes I’d be off in a corner coughing up a lung. THAT’s what would keep me from going back to the gym. At least in the short term, I’d like to keep my humiliation as private as possible.

Okay. You may find a the gym, home exercises you can do without equipment, or a combination work the best. Good luck in figuring it out. Everyone is different, but I can promise that you can see fitness results really quickly. Our bodies WANT to be fitter. Best wishes.

Check to see if your YMCA has Silver Sneakers classes or the equivalent, for seniors or for arthritis. Senior classes are so low impact, a lot of the time they are literally just sitting in a chair and exercising. As an added bonus, I know the one my mom goes to does stuff like teaching you how to get up from the ground.

You also can find a class that’s not necessarily for seniors but from the description you can tell that it’s going to be much more your speed than other classes (I’m talking water aerobics here). And then within the class there will be people working at all different paces, none of them worrying about what you’re doing. If you find one, you can even tell the instructor “hey because of my condition, I’m probably not going to be able to keep up, but I’ll try my hardest!” and they’ll say “ok cool, welcome!”

If you really can’t do a class I say by all means just get in the pool and walk up and down the lane. If there’s nowhere to walk, go to the deep end and tread water. It’s fun.

That’s totally understandable. I can say is that people in the class likely understand what you’re going through. Many have been exactly where you were. And even if they haven’t, they likely support your effort. And with a class like water aerobics, likely many of the people in the class will be in a very similar situation as you are right now. If you’re concerned about overexerting yourself, you can do the movements slower and easier, which I would recommend anyway at first.

Your reservations are common with most newbies. That’s not surprising. But having done group classes for years, I can tell you that you will find support in the class whatever your ability and level.

One other thing you might want to look into is a heart rate monitor. Especially as you’re starting out, it’s a very useful tool to ensure your heart rate is where it should be while you’re exercising.

I know this is easier said than done, but do your best to shrug this off. What matters is that you’re working for healthy change, and you have as much to be proud of as anyone if you can stick to an exercise plan and make progress. I’m not saying that there are no douchebags to be found in gyms, but most people are focused on their own workout (or their phones), and many people will have been through similar newbie struggles.

Seconding (or thirding) the pool and water aerobics. My doctor and physical therapist had me spending a lot of time in the pool when I was rehabilitating after my knee got shattered. It was about the only cardio that I could handle for the longest time.

Also, one thing to keep in mind is that IME most people are far too busy being self-conscious about their own physical condition to pay any attention to yours.

When I was recovering from a torn ACL, my local pool was the best low cost physio. I could be active, and get the exercise I needed without hurting my knee. I’m not a very good swimmer, but even just treading water with a float was better than sitting on my ass at home. I am normally very self conscious about how I look in a swimsuit, but the nice thing was that no one seemed to care. There were fatter people, and skinnier people, some were older and some younger. After going there a bunch of times, I got to recognize the other regulars and we all just smiled and said hello to each other and did our thing, or hung out in the hot pool and chatted a bit. It was nice.