Physical fitness is not something that can be achieved quickly or easily. Fitness is something that is built gradually and then maintained over the course of your life. New amputees and prosthetic users that want to get fit need to remember that trying to do too much too soon is counter-productive. It takes several months for most people to recover from injury, surgery, cancer, chemotherapy or radiation. Your physical therapist can guide you in the early stages of rehabilitation and give you appropriate exercises to do on your own.
A comprehensive exercise program should condition both the upper and lower body as well as the cardiovascular system. Weight bearing activities and weight lifting are appropriate for most people and have the added benefit of strengthening the skeletal system. Swimming is a type of exercise that many amputees like as it strengthens the body and cardiovascular system without putting additional stress on the joints. What matters most is finding a form of exercise you really like and that fits into your life. It can be as simple as walking or riding a bicycle, or can involve joining a fitness center or going to an exercise class. You decide and then stick with it!
One of the primary benefits of exercise is that it helps you maintain a healthy, stable weight. It is not unusual for people who have lost a limb to be sedentary for a few weeks or months until their physical therapy begins. This can lead to rapid weight gain, causing challenges in both the prosthetic fitting process and in your rehabilitation. Gaining or losing weight has a major effect on how your prosthetic socket fits. Gaining weight can make the socket tight and uncomfortable; losing weight can cause it to be loose and more difficult to control. In either case, it is sometimes necessary to fabricate a new socket to accommodate the changing dimensions of the residual limb. Being overweight also reduces your stamina and makes it more difficult to walk on a lower extremity prosthesis.
Being active and maintaining a healthy weight also help prevent cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. About 60 percent of men over 60 and women over 80 will experience major narrowing of the arteries. In fact, vascular problems are one of the primary causes of lower extremity amputation in older adults. Many older adult prosthetic users are vulnerable to cardiovascular problems that stem from inactivity.
Emotions like sadness and depression can be immobilizing, but physical therapy and an on-going exercise program can help you reduce these feelings. Studies have proven that regular exercise stimulates the release of chemical endorphins that help lift depression.
As your energy and strength return, you may want to work with a physical therapist or professional trainer who specializes in athletics for people with physical challenges. Over the years, as more and more amputees express a desire to be active and engage in sports, many specialized organizations have formed to meet the demand.
Two good resources for more information are the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) and Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA).
Like exercise, eating right is not usually something that can be achieved overnight. Start with small changes and slowly add healthier food choices to your daily diet. If you have not already done so, reduce your intake of processed food and sugar, and increase your intake of water. In your daily diet, favor fresh vegetables and fruits, lean cuts of meat, low fat dairy products and whole grain breads and cereals. If you eat out frequently, look for lower fat/lower calorie options on the menu or ask for your food to be prepared in a healthier way. For example, if the salad has fried chicken on it, ask if you could have grilled chicken instead, or substitute French fries with green salad or steamed vegetables.
Good nutrition and regular exercise also have a positive effect on your skeletal system and help to prevent osteoporosis. Bone density, mass and strength all naturally begin to decrease with age as evidenced by the decrease in height that begins in men around age 40, and in women around age 43. After the age of 50, loss of bone tissue shows a marked increase, particularly among women. Most women will lose about 30 percent of their bone tissue, while men average a 17 percent loss. Millions of American women will suffer some kind of fracture this year due to osteoporosis. You can strengthen your bones by including calcium-rich foods in your daily diet like milk, yogurt, kefir, fish and dark green vegetables. Reduce your intake of caffeine, which blocks the absorption of calcium, and try to eliminate both regular and diet soft drinks from your diet. Depending on your specific situation, your physician may prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements, estrogen or fluoride.
Finally, if you smoke, strongly consider quitting. You may feel that quitting right now would be too difficult but you can at least learn about your options. The US Surgeon General has stated, "Smoking cessation (stopping smoking) represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives." Nicotine Replacement Therapy has helped thousands of people give up smoking for good.
You’ll find methods for quitting at www.cancer.org or www.smokefree.gov.
Interested in learning more about healthy lifestyles? Call 1-877-4HANGER or visit our prosthetic information page to request more information.