BY SARAH OWENS
Exercise is particularly beneficial for adults with chronic spinal cord injuries, says a review published online on July 21 in Neurology.
Does Exercise Help?
People with spinal cord injuries are far less active compared to people in the general population and even compared to people with other disabilities.
That's why researchers in the United Kingdom and Canada decided to review the available evidence to see how much and what types of exercise are beneficial for people with these types of injuries.
Reviewing the Evidence
Researchers identified all published, peer-reviewed studies that examined the association between spinal cord injury, exercise (including frequency, intensity, and duration), and six aspects of physical health: cardiorespiratory fitness, power output, muscle strength, body composition, cardiovascular risk factors, and bone health. They identified 211 studies total; 189 focused on chronic spinal injury, 22 focused on acute spinal injury.
Digging into the Findings
Little evidence supported the benefit of exercise for people with acute (severe with a sudden onset, such as in an accident) spinal injury, mainly because too few studies have examined that link to make a solid conclusion.
But there were plenty of moderate- to high-quality studies—meaning, they used a large number of patients who were randomized and matched with controls, had a low risk of bias, and used proper safety protocols–supporting the benefit of exercise for chronic spinal injury.
The evidence was particularly strong for upper body aerobic exercises as well as for a combination of upper body aerobic exercises and strength training. In general, the researchers found that exercise benefited all six factors of physical health except for bone health, and just 20 minutes of exercise twice a week was enough to see a benefit.
Even better, adverse events related to exercise were surprisingly low. Participants who performed upper body aerobic and strength exercises had no adverse events, and just a few reported muscle soreness, neck pain, or other non-serious symptoms.
In most of the studies, participants exercised under supervision in a medical center, not at home; and the studies generally did not include older (65+) adults and did not compare more than one type of exercise to a control group.
Learn more about how exercise can benefit people with neurologic conditions at bit.ly/NN-Exercise.