Functional Mobility versus Exercise: Should Propelling a Manual Wheelchair be Exercise?

To answer this question let’s start by defining what functional mobility is. Functional mobility is the ability for someone to move around in their environment. We all have to move around in our environments, whether it is our home or community, to be able to complete all of our daily activities. For an individual with a mobility impairment, this might mean that you need a walker, orthotics, or for this discussion, a wheelchair to move around in your environment. Using myself as an example - in order for me to complete my daily activities I will move around by walking. This is not exercise for me. I need to be able to move around all day. Now imagine if I had to skip or run every time I moved. This would be not only exhausting, but also a lot of work for my body. I would likely not be able to complete all the tasks or participate in all the activities that I wanted to each day if I had to skip or run everywhere. Therefore, my options would be to either rely on someone else to help or I would simply not be able to participate.

Keeping this theory in mind, then the same thought process should hold true for a person who uses a wheelchair as their means of mobility. If it is exercise to propel the chair, then you can become exhausted before the day even begins. You might not be able to participate in certain activities or engage in your community if you are exhausted because you are constantly “exercising”.

Functional Mobility should not be exercise! Functional mobility is a right for all of us, no matter what form of mobility we use.

Pushing a wheelchair can be exercise, like a brisk walk or jogging. But remember, not all able-bodied people choose this as their exercise. Also, the upper limbs are more vulnerable to injury than lower limbs so “pushing for exercise” needs to be done in a way that does not present a danger of upper limb injury. We will explore this more in later blogs specifically about shoulder injury prevention.

Per Udden, the founder of Permobil, said it best:

“Every person has the right to have his or her disability compensated as far as possible by aids with the same technical standard as those we all use in our everyday lives.”


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Power Wheelchair Travel Checklist

Disclaimer: The following travel tips are for informational reference only. Permobil does not make any clinical, operational or warranty claims about any product, feature or service mentioned below.
Travelling with a power wheelchair can be downright stressful, but with our Travel Checklist we hope to make the process a little less painful. We’re splitting our checklist into four categories: before you go, travelling by car, travelling by plane, and if something happens to your chair. Let’s begin!
Before You Go
  • Fully charge your batteries
  • Pack your charger. If you are traveling abroad, check that your charger is compatible.
  • Make sure your chair has been recently serviced.
  • Located a Permobil authorised dealer where you will be travelling.
  • Write down you serial number and keep it with you.
  • Consider getting bag hooks, armrest pouches, or a Permobil essentials carrier for extra storage.
Travelling by Car
  • If you are travelling with your chair outside of the vehicle, make sure that the chair is protected with a waterproof cover.
  • Ensure that your chair is properly secured to the vehicle.
  • Consider using safety lock if you plan on leaving your chair unattended with your vehicle.
Travelling by Plane
  • Contact your airline ahead of time to plan for the transport of your chair. Make sure to describe the type of chair you use and consider the airplane size to make sure it fits your needs.
  • Be aware that some airlines may ask you to sign a waiver regarding their responsibility for your chair during transport.
  • Write down the type of batteries installed on your chair and how much your chair weighs, some airlines may ask for this information.
  • Take photos of your chair’s condition prior to checking in at the airport.
  • Allow an additional hour to check in with your wheelchair and be assisted at the gate before boarding.
  • Make sure to inform the check-in attendant of any medical equipment you have, that way they can mark as fragile.
  • Request that your chair travels upright in a stable position.
  • Remove the top portion of the backrest shell and lay it in the seat to decreased the height of your chair and allow it to be loaded/unloaded more easily.
  • Position your joystick to the inside of the armrest to further protect it during transit.
  • Put the chair’s drive motors into freewheel mode and switch off the chair’s circuit breaker to allow airline personnel to move your chair without driving it.
  • Make sure your chair’s seating system is shrink wrapped prior to loading in order to keep the backrest and other chair components together during transit.
  • Use bubble wrap when needed for more protection, such as headrests, omni displays, or other accessories.
  • Attach a tag to your chair and any removable parts with your contact information.
  • When you get to your gate, ask the gate attendant if you can talk with the ramp supervisor. You can give them the checklist and explain how to take care of your chair.
  • Take your cushion with you on the plane for increased comfort while you travel.
  • Remember, make sure to advocate for yourself. Because what works for others may not work for you.
  • Some airlines have hoists to assist with transfers on the aircraft, if required check with the specific airline to confirm if this is available.
  • If travelling with a service dog advise the airline prior to travel to have approval for the dog to travel on board.
If Something Happens to Your Chair
  • Remain calm. Remember, having the right attitude can do a lot of help resolve an otherwise stressful situation.
  • File a claim with the airline or other travel provider before you leave the airport.
  • Contact a Permobil authorised dealer in your area or the local Permobil representative. They will do whatever possible to help you get back up and running. To find the nearest Permobil Dealer, visit
Please refer to your owner’s manual for additional safety tips and transportation guidelines.