Health And Happiness

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on September 21, 2015 # Health

If I were to tell you that today we are going to talk about health and nutrition, my guess that your eyes would roll back, meaning, “Oh, God, not again…” or your eyes would glaze over, meaning, “Oh, God, not again….” If you work to stay healthy, you probably are tired of being told to do what you already do, and if you are in deep denial and haven’t exercised since Bill Clinton was President, you’re only looking for articles entitled, “Exercise Is Way Overrated!” or “Eat Pizza, Lose Weight!” It is true that the same truisms about health that have been established for the last thirty years or so still apply. Namely, exercise daily, eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods, take sleep seriously, and learn how to deal with stress. That’ll get you to first base. But if you really want to take the best care of yourself possible – and it would be idiotic not to – it’s good to have a few more specifics.

I’ve turned to two experts in the area of health and disability to fill me in on the most current thinking about what paralytics should do to maintain optimal health. Cristina Sadowsky, MD, is the Clinical Director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury (ICSCI) at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, and she works alongside of Janet Dean, a nurse practitioner at the same center. Here are their wise recommendations laid out in prescription form.


Do you know what a metabolic cart is? Me neither. It is an electronic medical device that measures the body’s metabolism through the amount of heat when the body is at rest. Often used in sports medicine, it’s a way of determining the correct intensity of your work out. As they say on those irritating prescription drug ads on TV, check with your doctor.

According to Dr. Sadowsky, 150 minutes of “medium intensity CVS workout” a week is the gold standard. If you can do more, do more. Exercise, she notes, is additive, meaning that two 15 minute workouts at different times of the day are the same as one 30 minute one. Know your intensity level for maximum effect. See metabolic cart above.


Another noted paralysis expert, Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist at the University of Texas Southwestern, once told me that when a paralytic like me comes to him complaining about fatigue, it is almost always because of bad sleeping habits. I, probably like you, try to take a catnap daily simply from carrying around 80 pounds of dead weight all day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to stay on top of what Dr. Sadowsky calls your “sleep hygiene.” Sleep 7-9 hours; over 9 hours, she says, increases the risk of stroke. And turn off those brain-wasting gadgets! Shut them all down – iPad, iPhone, iPod, all the “i’s” in your life -- at least an hour before going to sleep. Also, no TV’s or radios in the bedroom. Treat it like a sanctuary or a silent Buddhist meditation room where only sleeping is practiced.


Ms. Dean and Dr. Sandowsky agree – the topic has been beaten to death. But they are big on nutritional supplements. The quick list: 2000 units daily of Vitamin D. It helps with bones, of course, but also, in their words, “cancer prevention, cardiovascular prevention, mental health, chronic pain, etc.” Calcium should be taken at 1200 mg daily, in two doses, if pills, plus you can combine these with leafy greens like kale or spinach or milk products. They also recommend 1000 mg of Omega 3 daily (helps with depression) and flax seed oil (helps with your “GI tract motility”).


Quickly: check out the new world of health maintenance apps which can motivate you, remind you, and keep you focused. Get a massage – it increases the number of mitochondria, “the energy producing mini-factories of the cells.” Take care of your shoulders – your precious, over-stressed shoulders -- with a shoulder preservation exercise program. If you don’t have, check out the one at ICSCI. That’s what I plan to do.

I know what you’re saying – “Enough already!” Hey, it takes work and dedication to stay healthy if you are a wheelchair user. If you are over 50, it’s your number one job, no matter what your other jobs are, because if you don’t stay healthy, all jobs will suffer accordingly. There are few jobs besides computer solitaire that you can do from a hospital bed.

So get that metabolic cart test, get an app that will goes off like a fire siren if you don’t reach 150 minutes a week, put the Vitamin D bottle on the table next to the salt and pepper, and sleep in Zen silence. And there is one last prescription from Dr. Sadowsky as she escorts you out of her office:

“Above all – live a happy life and make it matter!”

And call me in the morning.

© 2015 Allen Rucker | Like Allen on Facebook

Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.