It’s important to follow various principles regarding diet and exercise in order to maintain a healthy body and mind, but for individuals who have sustained a serious spinal cord injury, it can be even more crucial. The effects of the injury could prevent the individual from performing regular day-to-day tasks, reduce arterial circulation in the legs and also impair bladder control. These are just some of the symptoms and outcomes associated with a severe spinal cord injury, according to the SCI Progress website and numerous other resources.

However, being less mobile as a result of an injury like this does not necessarily mean that the individual has no control at all over the maintenance of their general health.

There are many ways to improve both physical and mental well-being and achieve an overall better quality of life.

Exercise Regularly

Being in a wheelchair can increase the likelihood of weight gain and cardiovascular disease, but just as with non-disabled individuals, regular exercise can help lower the risk and prevent these outcomes from occurring.

Just a few minutes of gentle exercise every day can help to increase flexibility, improve mood levels, decrease pain, maintain a healthy weight and enhance the quality of the individual’s sleep at night.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol Intake

Excessive alcohol intake isn’t good for anyone, but for those with a spinal cord injury, it can present its own unique problems. Alcohol can lower the body’s ability to fight infections, leaving it vulnerable to illness.  It will also cause the body to produce more urine, which it could be even more problematic for those with impaired bladder control as a result of their injury. Alcohol is also well known for lowering the inhibitions of those who consume it, especially in vast quantities. This can leave the individual prone to additional accidents and injuries.

Plan a Daily Routine

First and foremost, having a day-to-day routine helps to keep the mind. Everyone is different, and it’s necessary for the individual to plan a routine that works well for them.  

This could include simple things like remembering to take medication at a certain time as well as performing gentle exercises each and every day.

 It could also be something that is perhaps more fulfilling, such as spending time on a hobby such as painting or writing. Finding constructive ways to fill the day will help maintain a clear state of mind and improve general mood levels.

Nutritional, Healthy Diet

While everyone should try to stick to a healthy, balanced diet, this advice is especially important for those with spinal cord injuries. A poor diet can easily lead to further health problems including an increased risk of pressure sores, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and neurogenic bowel and bladder problems.

A diet that is high in fibre is particularly important for individuals with spinal cord injuries.  Fibre adds bulk to stools, making them easier to pass, thus helping to prevent bowel problems, such as blockages and constipation. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all good sources of fibre.

Look to join a Local Support Group

By joining a local support group, you can reach out to other people with spinal cord injuries or mobility limiting conditions.  This is a great way to not only find out vital information about local resources and pick up tips and advice on diet and exercise, but also a great way to make new friends.

Participate in Adaptive Sports

Adaptive sports are becoming more and more accessible throughout many countries in the world. There’s a wide range of different sports and activities to choose from that have been adapted to suit individuals with limited mobility, including:

  • Cycling
  • Golf
  • Horseback Riding
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Rowing
  • Volley ball
  • Snow Skiing
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Basketball

As well as the obvious health benefits of taking part in regular sporting activities, there are also increased opportunities to make new friends and widen your social circle.

Water Intake

Everyone should be drinking plenty of water to help the body function as it should.  For those with spinal cord injuries, remaining well hydrated is vital to help limit pain and ensure overall wellbeing. Drinking enough water every day will help to regulate body temperature, prevent painful constipation, improve the condition of the skin and ensure healthy kidney function. The aim should be to drink at least 1.5 litres of water each day.

Maintain healthy skin

Poor circulation and pressure sores can lead to skin breakdown in people with spinal cord injuries, which could in turn become infected and even require surgery. To keep the skin as healthy as possible it’s suggested that the individual should try to manage their weight effectively, exercise regularly and avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, among other things.

Avoid fast foods

Fast food may taste nice but they contain hundreds of empty calories, lots of fat and typically huge, unnecessary quantities of sugar.  They may at times be more convenient than cooking from fresh, but the lack of nutritional value in fast food could have a detrimental health effect in the long run, if consumed regularly.

Individuals with spinal cord injuries can avoid problems like obesity, high cholesterol and increased pain and pressure sores by following a well balanced diet and eating meals containing fresh and healthy ingredients.

Stay positive

At times, it may be hard for some people to focus on the positives of their situation following a serious spinal cord injury.

Focusing on the everyday successes, however small, and learning to overcome new challenges, can help the individual to build a positive mindset and enhance their psychological and physical well-being.