November 30, 2017

Kyle Gieni, Resource Coordinator, PIRC

It is no secret that being physically active is important, but this is of the utmost importance for those living with a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).

People living with SCI are more prone to health risks such as blood clots and obesity, which could lead to more complex cardiovascular diseases. Other complications include pressure sores, urinary tract infections, and chronic pain, which could lead to a decreased lifespan. These are just some of the personal physical barriers people with SCI have to deal with when accessing physical activity. Transportation, parking, low-income, and mental illness are also barriers when it comes to working out. Most gymnasiums are not suitable for people with SCI for a number of reasons, but simple fixes can easily be done to accommodate us. Some spin classes now have arm cycles for people who cannot use a stationary bike to participate. Even people who cannot fully use their hands can participate with “Active Hands,” which help to grab the handles of equipment.

A recent study done by UBC and McMaster University recommends 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3 times per week for people with SCI.

That compared to 150 minutes per week for the regular person. This still leaves a number of questions unanswered: What should people with SCI do for weight/resistance training? What is the maximum amount of training people with SCI should do? Can somebody with SCI harm themselves if they work out too much? These questions probably cannot be answered for the SCI community since there is a large variance of people living with SCI. These are just guidelines, and I think it comes down to personal choice as to how hard one wants to push oneself. If you want to get in shape, start by doing small workouts and build on that. If you are hurting yourself working out, ease off a little bit by doing less, or concentrating on another part of your body.

There have been many innovations in the fitness world relating to watches that track physical activity.

Fitness watches have become a popular item in the that few years. Unfortunately, most of their benefits do not translate to individuals who use wheelchairs. I did try a Samsung Fit Gear 2 this year which lasted about 6 months because the strap broke and I got used to not wearing it. While I used it, I did a half-marathon (21km), and the watch said I did 10km, so in this case, it was almost half-right. The watch did give me a good idea of how many pushes I was doing in a day, so then I could compare days to see how many pushes I did each day. 20,000 pushes was a good day for me while I tried to average over 10,000 per day. Some new fitness trackers, including the Apple watch, have algorithms to track the distance of a wheelchair user, so advances are being made in the SCI world of fitness and how to digitally track progress.

Another option, that has recently included SCI folks in their ad campaigns, is the Fit Bit. I haven’t tried this particular device…yet, but the ability to track water intake, heart rate and your fitness progress over time is intriguing. You can watch the ad here:

For more information on SCI community resources

See PARC (Physical Activity Research Centre) at ICORD, 818 West 10th Ave, which offers a fully accessible gymnasium to do a number of different exercise programs. Here you can participate in a full arm-cycle spin class on a first come first serve basis Tuesday and Thursday @ 1:30 pm. Massages by Langara RMT students are also given on a first come first serve basis for those sore muscles.

Other SCI fitness resources can be found online, which include:

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