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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Fitness

Fitness

Exercise is good for everyone, regardless of the disability, spinal cord injury level and final functional capabilities. Some people exercise to lose weight or shape up. Others do it to get stronger, to build endurance and stamina, to help keep joints loose and flexible, to reduce stress, to get more restful sleep, or just because it makes them feel better. Whatever motivates you to exercise is a good reason.

There is an epidemic of obesity in the U.S. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are even more prone to carrying excess weight – this is due to a combination of changed metabolism and decreased muscle mass, along with a generally lower activity level.


There are compelling reasons to shed the extra pounds. Research shows that people in wheelchairs are at risk for shoulder pain, joint deterioration, even rotator cuff tears, due to the amount of stress they place on their arms. Quadriplegics, too, have pain in their shoulders. The more weight to push, the more stress on the shoulder. Plus there’s the risk the skin faces: as people gain weight, skin folds develop which trap moisture, greatly increasing the risk of skin sores.

It’s never too late to get a fitness program going. According to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, people with disabilities are less likely to engage in regular moderate physical activity than people without disabilities, yet they have similar needs to promote their health and prevent unnecessary disease. Here’s more:

  • Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Significant health benefits can be obtained with a moderate amount of physical activity, preferably daily. The same moderate amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as 30–40 minutes of wheeling oneself in a wheelchair) or in shorter sessions of more strenuous activities (such as 20 minutes of wheelchair basketball).
  • Additional health benefits can be gained through greater amounts of physical activity. People who can maintain a regular routine of physical activity that is of longer duration or of greater intensity are likely to derive greater benefit.
  • Previously sedentary people who begin physical activity programs should start with short intervals of physical activity (5–10 minutes) and gradually build up to the desired level of activity.
  • People with disabilities should first consult a physician before beginning a program of physical activity to which they are unaccustomed.

Source: The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Craig Hospital

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Nutrition and Weight (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Fitness and Exercise (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on FES Treadmill Information Sheet (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on FES Treadmill Information Sheet (PDF)

Craig Hospital: SCI Health and WellnessWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Features numerous articles and resources on fitness, nutrition and healthy living.

Inclusive Fitness CoalitionAddresses the policy, environmental and societal issues associated with the lack of access to physical activity among people with disabilities.

ILRU: RRTC on SCI: Exercise InformationThe ILRU (Independent Living Research Utilization) program is a national center for information, training, research, and technical assistance in independent living. Its goal is to expand the body of knowledge in independent living and to improve utilization of results of research programs and demonstration projects in this field. It is a program of TIRR (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research), a nationally recognized medical rehabilitation facility for persons with disabilities.

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD)Resources promoting physical activity for people, and for health, fitness and exercise professionals.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and SportsInformation on making exercise an important part of your life

The Uppertone SystemIntroduced in 1990 by a C4-C5 quadriplegic, the Uppertone System allows people with C4-C5 paralysis and below to do upper body exercises necessary for rehabilitation and maintenance, without assistance.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.