By Kyle Shea
It is no secret that there is an obesity epidemic in our country. In 2017, a startling report published by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that 64% of Canadian adults over the age of 18 are either overweight or obese, as are 60% of children between the ages of 5 and 17. However, as alarming as these statistics are, what you may find even more shocking is that the percentage of overweight and obese wheelchair users (both children and adults) is even higher.
Through my personal experiences as both a wheelchair user born with spina bifida and as a personal trainer/nutrition consultant, I have seen first-hand just how challenging maintaining a healthy body weight can be for those of us with mobility issues. Fortunately, these experiences have allowed me to develop 5 useful tips and strategies to help you, or someone you know who is mobility impaired, avoid unwanted weight gain.
#1 | Regular Cardiovascular Exercise
Your biggest muscles are found in your lower half, but because wheelchair users typically lack partial, or complete, use of their legs, this can make burning calories efficiently a very difficult task. However, depending on your mobility level, there are still several cardio options you can utilize. Swimming, a stationary hand bike, a rowing machine, or pushing your wheelchair outside or around an indoor track are some great options to consider. The important thing is to find a form of cardio you’re comfortable with and be consistent with it while aiming to make incremental improvements to your intensity by either increasing the distance travelled or decreasing the amount of time it takes you to complete a particular distance.
#2 | Eating Less Calorie-Dense Foods
Because wheelchair users have a difficult time burning calories through exercise, it is imperative that we monitor our caloric intake closely to prevent overeating. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by incorporating high volume, low-calorie foods into your diet. Some examples include leafy green vegetables, chicken, white fish, eggs, and beans. These foods have the benefit of being lower in calories while still allowing you to feel satiated after eating them.
#3 | Avoid Drinking Your Calories
One of the biggest culprits of unwanted weight gain is the over consumption of liquid calories from things like pop, fruit juices, and alcohol. These drinks are full of sugar and add a significant number of calories to your daily total while doing little to keep you feeling full. Try to stick to water, tea, or black coffee to quench your thirst whenever possible.
#4 | Maintain a Regular Strength Training Routine
While cardiovascular exercise is often the first thing people think of when it comes to fat loss, a regular strength training regimen 2–3 times per week can also be an effective way to shed those unwanted pounds. In addition to burning calories during your workout, a regular strength training routine will help boost your body’s caloric expenditure up to 24–48 hours after leaving the gym!
#5 | Get Adequate Sleep
While often overlooked, the amount of sleep you are getting can have a definite impact on your weight. When your body is well rested you are much more likely to perform physical activity, which in turn will increase your body’s total daily energy expenditure. Conversely, those who do not get enough sleep tend to be more lethargic and less likely to perform daily exercise.
Kyle Shea is a wheelchair-bound personal trainer living with spina bifida. He is originally from Guysborough, Nova Scotia but resides in Toronto, Ontario.
Sources: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/obesity-excess-weight-rates-canadian-adults.html  https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/obesity-excess-weight-rates-canadian-children.html  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/obesity.html