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National Centre researchers developing physical activity guidelines for people with spinal cord injury

Loughborough University academics together with international colleagues from Canada are developing physical activity guidelines to inform people with spinal cord injury how much exercise to do and how often.

Studies have shown that people with spinal cord injury are among the most physically inactive and deconditioned individuals compared to the general population. Beneficial physical effects of exercise are limited due to muscle paralysis and an impaired nervous system, while people with spinal cord injury also face many challenges and barriers to physical activity participation.

Loughborough academics from the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine East Midlands (NCSEM-EM) and the Peter Harrison Centre for Disability Sport (PHC) are building on previous bodies of work to form an evidence-based approach to physical activity guidelines, developed through engaging with international researchers, clinicians and people who are living with spinal cord injury.

The outcome of this work will be a set of guidelines around the types of exercises that are effective and advice on the frequency, intensity and duration of the exercise, with the ultimate goal to improve fitness and health.

The next stage in developing the guidelines is a series of consensus panels both here and overseas. European, American and Australian academics, as well as clinicians and people with spinal cord injury, will come together to discuss and input on the work so far. Using all the available literature evidence, a consensus will be reached on what should be recommended for the guidelines.

Each group will then work with partners from their own country, including spinal injury charities, disability sport organisations, rehabilitation units and people with spinal cord injury, to determine the most suitable format and methods of distributing the information to most effectively reach those who would benefit from it.

Jan van der Scheer, Post-Doctoral Researcher in Loughborough’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and PHC, said: “We want to develop physical activity guidelines for people with spinal cord injury through an evidence-based, transparent approach that engages with international academics, clinicians and, most importantly, the people with spinal cord injury themselves.”

Vicky Tolfrey, Director of the PHC and Professor of Applied Disability Sport also at Loughborough, said: “The guidelines will be suitable for anybody with spinal cord injury, not just elite athletes. We especially want to support those who are currently inactive to take part in more physical activity due to the health and wellbeing benefits of being more active.”

Andy Barrow, retired Paralympic athlete and now engaged in supporting physical activity projects for the general population, said: “The health and wellbeing benefits of physical activity can be tremendous at any level of physical activity, exercise or sports. But for daily practice it is important to know what the minimum recommendation is to get the fitness and health benefits.”

The first of the consensus panels will be held at the NCSEM-EM at Loughborough University on Tuesday 21 June.