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Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Why You Need to Exercise if You Have a Spinal Cord Injury—and How Burke Can Help

Are you a committed yogi? Focused on finding out how much weight you can lift? No matter which activity you prefer—or even if you’re still searching for your favorite—you should be working out regularly. And “exercise may be even more important for individuals with a spinal cord injury,” says Elizabeth Dominick, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Neurologic Physical Therapy and the Program Director of the Spinal Cord Injury/Neuro Program at Burke.

That’s because if you have a spinal cord injury (SCI), you’re at an increased risk of developing conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. And, says Dominick, “For many individuals after a spinal cord injury, it can be difficult to find ways to exercise or exercise at an appropriate intensity enough to counteract the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and obesity.” Plus, “exercise also provides opportunities for socialization and psychological benefits. There are a number of options for adapted exercise that individuals can participate in and that can help provide the health and psychological benefits,” says Dominick.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many former Burke patients and community members talked about how difficult it was to be able to exercise and be social, says Dominick. “This was even more prevalent for our SCI community members because they do not have the equipment to exercise in their own home or caregiver assistance if needed,” she explains.  

But a new program can help change that. Thanks to a grant from the Craig Neilsen COVID Emergency Relief Fund, Burke is running SCI Focus on Fitness, a free, six-week program featuring live online fitness classes geared towards people with an SCI. The second session begins October 26. 

“The classes are perfect for everyone and anyone who has sustained an SCI, is currently healthy without an acute injury, and is not currently receiving therapy for their injury,” explains Dominick. “The classes are designed to meet individuals where they are in their exercise journey and allow them the opportunity to focus on their own fitness, which is something that may have been difficult to do over the past few weeks or months.”

When you start the program, you’ll receive a “Fit Kit” that includes all the equipment needed to take the classes at home. And if you prefer having someone with you, whether it’s a caregiver or friend, the kit also comes with the necessary PPE, including surgical masks and sanitizer to ensure everyone’s safety.

“All of the classes are adapted to be completed in the seated position and the instructors are providing options for modifying the exercises based on level of injury,” explains Dominick. The classes run for one hour, five days a week and each week participants will take two yoga classes, two boxing classes and one cardio strength class—all taught by certified, knowledgeable instructors.

Pierre Fallot from Title Boxing Club in Stamford teaches the boxing class, Alexandra Oudheusden, a yoga instructor and Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist runs the yoga class, and Jonathan Casanova M.S. EP-C, Supervisor of Exercise Programs at the Burke Adult Fitness Center, heads the cardio strength class.

“The goal of offering a variety of fitness options and partnering with a few different exercise vendors in the area was to allow individuals living with SCI to trial all different types of exercise without the financial commitment or risk of leaving their own home,” explains Dominick. Also great? Since participants are able to keep the equipment, there’s nothing stopping you from keeping up with your preferred workout—especially since many of the classes are offered in the community. “We are hoping that they will find something that they can ‘connect’ with and if they choose, they can continue with it in the future so that they can maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially while things are so unpredictable at the moment,” says Dominick.

The next session begins on October 26, with the deadline for registration on October 19. Openings are filled on a first come, first served basis. For more information and to sign up for the class, contact Eileen Andreassi at 914-592-2248 or Liz Dominick at 914-597-2480.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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