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Spinal Cord Injury Update

Fall 2009: Volume 18, Number 3

Real Life Fitness


What do your SCI peers do for exercise and physical activity? Here are some answers:

58-year-old female, T10/11, injured 13 years—Uses hand weights and bands at least four times/week, plus 120 crunches before getting out of bed. For aerobic exercise, she uses an hour-long wheelchair exercise video. “I also dance to my favorite music. Cleaning a room from top to bottom burns up mega calories for me.” The endorphins she gets from exercise “are energizing (better than caffeine) and help somewhat with pain management. My advice is to make exercise a regular part of your schedule and then stick to it until it becomes a habit. Start out slowly or you could injure yourself right out of the gate. Build up to longer workouts and vary your activities to keep it interesting. Also be sure to stay stretched by daily range of motion exercises. Keep your workouts fun and don’t beat yourself up for missing a day.”

26-year-old male, C5, injured 7 years—Uses exercise bands attached to his rear casters on his power chair to work out his arms for 30–45 minutes at a time. He also wheels in his manual wheelchair for exercise when he has time. He needs assistance attaching the bands to the wheelchair or helping him transfer to his manual chair, but these activities have helped increase his “energy, strength in arms, and overall feeling of well-being.”

30-year-old female, L2, injured 12 years—Saved up money to buy a VitaGlide machine and uses it 2–3 times/week, up to 45 minutes per session. She also attends a boxing fitness class once a week, and she lifts weights at home once a week. In sunny weather, she rides a bike outdoors using a Dragonfly attachment. This “was very expensive, but much more affordable than a handcycle. I cannot get it out of the apartment myself, or maneuver it up and down many of the hills around my apartment, so I only bike with my partner, who drives me to a bike trail.” Benefits? “I have more energy and less pain in my back because I’ve worked hard on building up the muscles that will support me (core and trunk).”

43-year-old male, T4, injured 12 years— Exercises with an arm ergometer at home for 35–45 minutes, 3–4 times/week; with free weights for 30 minutes, twice a week; and does exercises for his shoulders with bands twice a week for 15 minutes. These activities have helped him build strength and endurance. Besides, “it just feels good after working out.” His advice is to set small goals and measure your progress. “Since it is often hard for people with SCI to get their heart rate up, get a heart rate monitor so that you can see how your body is reacting to different exercises. For cardiovascular exercise, my favorite piece of equipment is the VitaGlide because it seems to get the greatest number of muscles involved and is the best for getting my heart rate up.”

38-year-old male, C4-5, injured 17 years—Rides an E-stim bike at home, usually twice a week. He needs another person to assist him with it and it takes a lot of time, but “I can feel my heart rate increasing…it’s the best exercise for cardio you can get when you are paralyzed.” He would recommend it to all quads. It is expensive, and this may be a big obstacle for many people.

25-year-old female, C5/6 injury with C2/3 function (vent-dependent), injured 7 years—Attends a rehab exercise facility (Pushing Boundaries in Redmond, Wash.) for two hours, three days/week and does a range of activities there, including E-stim bike, standing, core and postural training, breathing exercises, and weight training. Exercising has had huge benefits: “I am able to work off some of my pent up energy. I sleep better. I can support myself better. I have improved my independent breathing functions. I have stopped and even reversed muscle atrophy. And finally, I have discovered that I have some control over muscles that I did not before and have been able to strengthen those muscles and muscle groups. It has been worth the time and financial commitments tenfold.”

52-year-old male, C5 injury with C6 function, injured 26 years—After years of exercising with strap-on cuff weights, he switched to tubing on the advice of the physical and occupational therapists he consulted for shoulder pain and weakness. With the help of an assistant, he does his workouts with the tubing for 20 minutes/day, 5–6 days/week and has noticed increased strength and reduced pain. He has also benefitted from breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi and stretching. His advice : get a partner and/or assistant to help and encourage you in your fitness efforts.