The exercise regimen Dr. Nash and Mr. Smith recommended involved a series of eight exercises. It utilized hand weights for biceps and deltoid exercises and three eyehooks set in the wall — one 2 inches off the floor to hold the bands for upward diagonal exercises, one at 31 inches for high and low rowing and internal and external rotation exercises, and one at 84 inches for downward diagonal exercises.
A friend and I designed my actual system using an eight-foot-long 4-by-4 mounted vertically, a 36 inch crossbeam mounted horizontally at 33 inches and a second, folding cross beam — with chest pad at chest height for stability during rowing exercises. Using Thera-Bands clipped into eyehooks on one end, brass rings on the other and hooked weight lifting cuffs, I could go through the whole series in about 45 minutes. Even better, materials for the whole shebang cost a little less than $200.
Weight gain is a sneaky thing. A study cited in a recent Craig Hospital article showed that people with SCI averaged only a pound gain per year. That might not sound too bad, but when you do the math, the pounds add up. A 2008 National Institute on Disability study did just that and found that at 30 years post-injury, 74 percent of quads and paras were either overweight or obese.
In my case, after 25 years in the chair, I’d long moved past thinking the dryer was responsible for my tightening clothes. By then I’d already spent 10 years in a power chair — ample time for me to add back all the extra poundage I’d carried before the bodysurfing accident that left me a C6 quad. I’d become resigned to periodically switching up to larger pants and shirt sizes and even accepted moving to a wider power chair. But I’d started to worry about worsening shoulder aches that had begun to hinder my dressing and impede my board transfers.
By my annual physical, I was already prepared to start making some changes. The doctor scowled when he saw my weight — 220 pounds. I’d left rehab at 160. Sure, it was an average of only 2.4 pounds per year but it still added up to a 60-pound gain.
He also scolded me about my elevated cholesterol. He wanted me on Lipitor. But I’d recently watched an out-of-shape, able-bodied coworker exercise and diet his way off both Lipitor and insulin. I asked my doctor — couldn’t I do the same? He gave me a dubious look but let me leave with a recommended diet and some exercise guidelines.
My wife, Susie, and I reviewed all the information. She had been an aerobics instructor and was into exercise and proper diet. Together we started putting together a plan that would work for me. First off, I agreed I’d be committing to a lifestyle change, not just going for quick weight loss. And I set a goal of eventually getting back to my post-rehab weight.
Exercise was the easy part. I’d already started upper body exercises using a Thera-Band over the door system, and I’d switched my power chair to a Quickie Xtender power-assist chair. I’d also seen that the Miami Project had experimented with an exercise band program that was as effective as using expensive weight machines.
Meetings with Dr. Mark Nash at The Miami Project and Robin Smith, a therapist at Miami Physical Therapy, gave me the info to set up my own tailored system at home — an inexpensive one I could use without any help (see sidebar).
When it came to diet, Susie and I had both been impressed by the weight loss a few of our walkie friends had achieved at Weight Watchers. Rather than just counting calories and using
portion control, Weight Watchers assigned points to different foods, healthier fare getting lower points than unhealthier stuff. It was a type of structured approach that appealed to me — one that allowed me to watch what I ate and still occasionally stray.
But to use it, I’d have to join and weigh-in at meetings. There was no way they had a wheelchair scale, nor was I anxious to subject myself to that experience. Susie volunteered to go through it herself. She shared the information with me and quickly lost five pounds, earning lifetime membership.
I lost 18 pounds my first year. The weight loss was like a miracle cure. Transfers no longer intimidated me. Dressing was easier than it had been in years. I started buying smaller sizes. I’ve continued living a healthy lifestyle, with an approach I’ve modified from my early Weight Watchers days that still helps me to lose some poundage every year.
I’m down to 177 pounds now. Amazingly, it hasn’t been all that difficult. Part of it has been eating smaller portions and finding enjoyable substitutes for the less-healthy foods I love — bison, turkey, chicken, lean pork, fish and soy instead of beef. Grilled or baked instead of fried. And limiting such indulgences as fried chicken, ribs or pizza to occasional treats. Having an in-house exercise system has made working out harder for me to dodge. Finding an affordable wheelchair scale that we could keep in the garage has made monitoring my weight a cinch. Of course, Susie’s advice and support have made all of it far easier.
Still, I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’ll soon be starting to participate in a new diet and exercise study at The Miami Project. It’s supposed to be fairly tough, so I have great hopes for it. I just can’t believe I’m looking forward to it.