Wheelchair users face an especially insidious health threat: having to sit all day. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the dangers of too much sitting, and they include cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, people who use wheelchairs can fight such hazards through diet and exercise.
The Health Effects of Sitting for Prolonged Periods
When you sit for more than eight hours each day, your blood flows less efficiently, and that situation can deprive your cells of nutrients and oxygen. Compounding the problem, the muscles can't burn fat as quickly. Thus, fatty acids will accumulate throughout the body, and they can interfere with the functioning of the heart. Inactive muscles don't react to insulin effectively either, which leads the body to secrete excessive quantities of that hormone. As a result, the likelihood of diabetes increases.
A surfeit of sitting can also cause the abdominal muscles to atrophy. A person's abs are fully engaged when he or she stands, but they're lax when he or she sits. Therefore, excess sitting often causes poor posture, a condition that can lead to back pain, shoulder soreness, and neck tension.
In short, too much time in the seated position can increase an individual's odds of premature death by as much as 61 percent. For that reason, if you use a wheelchair, it's vital for you to take measures on a daily basis to counteract all of those negative effects of sitting.
Nutritional Considerations for Wheelchair Users
As is true of everyone, nutrition plays an instrumental role in the health of wheelchair users. With that in mind, keep away from sugar as much as you can, and fill up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats that are baked or broiled, and a variety of other natural foods that are low in fat and high in fiber. Also, to stay hydrated, drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
In particular, try to take in plenty of antioxidants. Antioxidants, of which vitamins C and E are examples, are compounds that will boost your immune system and protect you from the harm that free radicals do. A free radical is a molecule that forms as a byproduct of everyday activity such as breathing. When left unchecked, free radicals can roam through your body and attack healthy cells, making you more vulnerable to heart disease and certain cancers.
Here's a quick list of foods that are rich in antioxidants:
- black and red beans
Antioxidants are powerful, they protect the cells from damage, which protects the body. There are tools where you can check the number of antioxidants in your blood, Nu Skin offers a scanner, as well as Mona Vie. It's important to measure how your body is performing.
Exercising in a Wheelchair
Wheelchair-based exercise is also crucial. Adult wheelchair users who are under the age of 65 should perform at least two and a half hours of aerobic exercise each week. To be beneficial, your aerobics must make your heart beat faster and cause you to sweat. For example, you might traverse your neighborhood at high speeds each morning, or you might try moving your arms and chest rhythmically to catchy music. The trick is to find activities that you enjoy and would want to keep doing.
Alternately, your weekly aerobic exercises might come in the form of organized sports. If a wheelchair athletic league exists in your community, consider joining it. Think about how much fun it would be to play tennis, basketball, rugby, or another game on a regular basis. What's more, you'll probably make new friends while you're at it. If competition doesn't interest you, you might be able to join a social group whereby you and other wheelchair users could socialize while swimming or completing laps around an outdoor track.
Finally, in addition to your aerobic routines, lifting weights at least two days a week will tone your muscles and allow you to reverse some of the adverse effects of continual sitting.
Rest is Important, Too
Lastly, proper rest is critical. A lack of mobility during the day can lead to sore spots forming, which can be further exacerbated by immobility while sleeping. Thus, an alternating pressure-relief mattress can go a long way to improve the quality of life by reducing bedsores and increasing restful sleep each night.
An adjustable-height medical bed can also help with mobility and circulation issues by elevating the legs at night in ways that a traditional bed frame can't.
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