New national exercise guidelines for persons with disabilities
Amy Latimer is part of a research team that has developed new national exercise guidelines for spinal cord injuries, a first for any disability group in Canada.
“There was a clear need for exercise guidelines for people with spinal cord injuries,” explains the Kinesiology and Health Studies professor. “Until this point the only available exercise guidelines have been designed for the general population. These guidelines are often too much as a recommended starting point for people who have been inactive and need to progressively build up their muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness to avoid injury. Once someone is active they should strive to exceed the guidelines.”
The new guidelines recommend 20 minutes of moderate to heavy intensity exercise two times a week plus two strength-training sessions. Research evidence suggests that people with spinal cord injuries can gain significant fitness benefits from this amount of exercise. Exercise guidelines for the general population recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate to heavy intensity plus two strength training sessions.
The idea of creating specific guidelines came from the success of programs similar to the Queen’s University ‘Revved Up’ program, where undergraduate and community volunteers assist people with variety of mobility issues to improve their cardiovascular and strength capabilities.
The team of researchers followed 700 Ontarians with spinal cord injuries for a year and a half. The team found that over half of the sample population reported no leisure time physical activity at all.
“This is often more to do with the nature of the barriers people with spinal cord injuries face in trying to exercise, rather than because of the nature of their injury,” says Dr. Latimer, who notes that many gyms do not provide accessible fitness equipment.
The most common form of exercise for people with spinal cord injuries is wheeling, but aerobic workouts can also be done using arm ergometers, treadmills with wheelchair capability, and seated ellipticals. Interacting with Wii, a home video game console, may also help improve cardiovascular fitness, while strength training can be done on standard equipment with the seats removed or with free weights and resistance bands.
Dr. Latimer’s own team has also received funding to create separate exercise guidelines for people with multiple sclerosis.
The spinal cord exercise guidelines were developed in conjunction with SCI Action Canada. The project was led by Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis and Dr. Audrey Hicks from McMaster University.