People with a spinal cord injury are more susceptible to diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure due to changes in body metabolism as well as a sedentary lifestyle. This means that there is a greater risk of cardiovascular disease which can cause heart attacks and stroke. A good diet, physical activity/exercise and stopping smoking are essential for treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Lack of physical activity in people with SCI also puts them at higher risk of pressure sores, respiratory problems, urinary tract infections, carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity and depression. All these things mean that the less exercise you do the more likely you are to end up back in hospital. Exercise can also help with your independence, you can exercise to achieve a specific goal such as
improving your balance so that it is easier to get dressed.
How Much Exercise
You do not need to do long intense exercise sessions to get any benefits, if you accumulate 30 minutes of moderate exercise in 10 minute intervals you will still improve your health. Ideally you should try to do 2 days a week of strength training (3-5 upper body exercises) and 3 days a week of moderate/vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes (at a level where it becomes difficult to hold a conversation!).
How to Exercise
If you have not exercised for some time you should check with your GP that it is ok for you to start. Also start exercising gradually and build up the amount of exercise you do over a few weeks.
There are many resources available for exercises specifically for people with SCI. The Spinal Cord Injury Network has produced a video (view) of tips for getting motivated to start an exercise program, and a brochure about exercise for SCI (view) which includes lists of equipment suppliers and sporting organisations throughout Australia.
The National Centre on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (USA) has DVDs and booklets on exercises for both paraplegics and tetraplegics (quadriplegics). There is also a free on-line personalised 14 week exercise program, which includes motivation tips, exercises, nutrition and access to a qualified trainer. For more information go to
CareCure has a forum on exercise (http://sci.rutgers.edu) which also has some good information on shoulder pain and exercise. Strength exercises can be performed either in your wheelchair or on a bed/bench. An excellent SCI exercise website is http://www.physiotherapyexercises.com, you can enter your injury level and what type of exercise you want to do and it will produce a booklet of diagrams of suitable exercises. This site also has exercises specifically for improving transfer skills.
Where to Exercise
See our link (go to Sport and Recreation) for organisations that provide sports for people with disabilities. Another great place to start is local community centre gyms and recreation centres. Most councils are very proactive in providing access for people with disabilities at their gyms, and most public swimming pools will be equipped with a hoist and someone to assist you to get in the water. If you need assistance at the gym, the following gyms in Western Australia have fitness trainers that have previously worked with someone with a spinal cord injury:
- Fuller Fitness, Subiaco
- Revolution Sports, Shenton Park
- Loftus Community Centre, Leederville
- Belmont Oasis
- Leisurepark Balga
- Challenge Stadium, Mt Claremont
- City of Melville Aquatic Fitness Centre
- Wanneroo Aquamotion
- Fitness First, Floreat
- Lord’s, Subiaco
- Curtin Gym & Group Fitness, Bentley
- UWA Sports and Recreation Centre, Nedlands
- Swan Leisure Park Center
- City of Mandurah Recreation Centre
- Serpentine Jarrahdale Recreation Centre (YMCA Byford)
- South Lake Leisure Centre
- Joondalup Arena
- Perfect Balance Gym, Dunsborough
- Gooflife Health Club, Cottesloe
If you want to purchase your own exercise equipment for use at home the Spinal Cord Injury Network brochure (view) describes various pieces of equipment and where they can be purchased. The Independent Living Centre (http://ilcaustralia.org.au/) has a ‘recreation, leisure and sports’ section containing sporting equipment and suppliers within Australia. You
can also purchase equipment overseas and import it GST free as it is disability equipment. Even with freight costs, items purchased from the USA are often much cheaper than purchasing in Australia and arrive faster than items ordered here. Sportaid in the USA (http://www.sportaid.com/) supplies all types of sporting equipment and is very helpful and reliable
with overseas orders.