This is a part of the Hot Topic podcast series from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center on Exercise and Fitness After Spinal Cord Injury. Michael Boninger M.D, researcher, discusses Exercise, Health, and Happiness After Spinal Cord Injury.

Research tells us that exercise after spinal cord injury has multiple positive effects. I think that we can look at both research done in people with spinal cord injury and people who don’t have spinal cord injury. So we know that it helps you maintain good body weight; we know that it can prevent cancer; we know that it can prevent cardiac disease and pulmonary disease.

And so all of the positive health benefits that have been proven repeatedly are true in spinal cord injury, as well. Because spinal cord injury itself can make you more at risk for cardiac disease or pulmonary disease, that’s actually even more important.

So if you can stay in shape, you can keep your heart and your lungs healthy, then it can really improve your longevity. And really it’s your quality of life that has most to do with it, your ability to get around and do what you want to do.

And depending on the type of exercise when it comes to spinal cord injury it’s even more important because it can have a psychological effect. So we know that one of the ways to beat depression is to exercise. Not only does it help from a depression perspective, but it can also help put someone kind of back in the real world, which is a really important part of recovery and of staying healthy with a spinal cord injury.

I think that there are many other secondary benefits. I think one of the things that we worry about spinal cord injury is muscle atrophy and how that can impact risk for a pressure sore or other injuries. And so exercise can also keep your muscles strong and toned.

In addition to that, people with spinal cord injury often use their arms more than people who walk with their legs. So if you push a manual wheelchair, if one of the things that you do on a regular basis is lift weights, keep your strength up. Then it can actually make that task, which you have to do all the time, easier.

It’s kind of a very similar principle. People are more likely to get osteoarthritis if they are overweight and are more likely to get knee pain if they have muscle imbalances or are weak. Same thing holds true for people with spinal cord injury. If you stay strong, if you keep your weight ideal, then you’re less likely to get a secondary injury, a musculoskeletal injury or have problems with your cardiopulmonary system.

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