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Chiropractic News

January 2010

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Passive exercise benefits the elderly and disabled

The numerous health benefits of physical exercise have been well documented in recent years, and many people have started incorporating increased physical activity in their daily lives. However, for the elderly and/or disabled, traditional exercise routines can be painful, dangerous, or downright impossible. Although these populations understand the tremendous value exercise has for their health and wellness, their decreased mobility can be a major barrier in their ability to safely engage in normal physical activity. 

Fortunately, healthcare professionals have discovered a new fitness activity, known as passive exercise, which can help almost anyone—regardless of their age or mobility levels—engage in beneficial physical activity. Passive exercise usually involves having one's legs gently moved from side-to-side by a medical professional to stimulate the body's muscles and circulatory systems. Patients are not required to move their limbs themselves; instead, it's done for them by a therapist—thus the term "passive" exercise.  

While this form of exercise has traditionally required a doctor or physical therapist to move the patient's arms and legs, new technology has been developed that allows a person to engage in passive exercise on their own, without the assistance of another person and even while at home. Specifically, passive exercise machines let the patient place their legs in a set of cushioned cuffs that are attached to small modular platform. When the device is turned on, the cuffs automatically swing the legs from side to side, thereby providing the passive range of motion needed to stimulate the body.

On first glance, it might seem like it would take large, complicated machine to provide such activity, but passive exercise devices are relatively small—about the size and shape of the base of a vacuum cleaner—and highly portable. These machines fit nearly anywhere and can be used while the patient is lying on the floor, in a bed, and even if someone is confined to a wheelchair. The machine creates a gentle, swinging motion that moves the legs a few inches from right to left, and the device repeats this movement automatically over a set period of time. 

The swinging movement of the machine runs up
from the legs through the body, which helps promote flexibility in the ankles, knees, hips and spine. This action relaxes the muscles in the legs and back while increasing circulation in the lower extremities. The increased circulation helps relieve swelling in the ankles and legs, which can build up if one is immobile for long periods. In this way, the patient is able to receive many of the same health benefits of normal aerobic exercise without putting any undue stress or impact on the legs, back, or joints.

For enhanced safety, the highest quality passive exercise machines come with adjustable speeds, so one's body can be gently introduced to the activity. Once a patient is comfortable with the activity, the speed can be increased for even more benefit. In fact, healthy people who are able to engage in traditional exercise have used these devices as a way to supplement and enhance their aerobic activity. However, for those who can't participate in normal exercise, the machines can be literal lifesavers, enabling even those on bed rest to gain the benefits of regular physical activity.

Although the benefits of such exercise may sound a bit far-fetched, the best passive exercise machines are registered with the FDA as official therapeutic devices. In fact, the machines are recognized by many insurance companies, and doctors who use them on patients can be reimbursed through insurance, so they definitely have real value in the medical field. 

If you're unable to engage in regular physical exercise because of age or disability, investing in a passive exercise machine may be a great way to get the physical activity you need to stay healthy and live longer. Best of all, with such a device, you no longer have to schedule expensive doctor's visits to get such benefits, because you'll have everything you need to start an exercise regimen in the comfort of your home.
Chris Towery is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and is currently a full-time freelance journalist. He has written hundreds of articles for more than 20 different magazines, newspapers, and custom publishers. Much of his recent writing has been for the complementary and alternative healthcare industry. To contact Chris, email
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