SCI Health Series: Heart Health

People with SCI used to have some dire death scares. Until recently, kidney failure, respiratory infections and bladder cancer were among the top causes of death of people with spinal cord injuries, but now, thanks to some miraculous healthcare advancements, these are no longer the top causes. A new cause of death however is creeping up on many with SCI, especially as they age – heart disease.

Heart disease sadly now is the leading cause of death among people with spinal cord injuries. We’re at nearly double the risk of getting it compared to the AB population, and we have a 4x greater risk of having a stroke. But don’t freak out. Many people with SCI have successfully gotten their hearts in excellent shape. No matter your injury, it can be done. Read the best ways to improve your cardio health below!

Exercise on the Regular

While doctors say heart disease is partially inherited, there’s still a lot you can do a lot to prevent heart disease, and exercise is a huge thing you can do. Try doing a cardio workout at least 20 minutes at a time for 3 to 4 times a week to keep your heart in good cardio shape. And getting a good cardio workout in a wheelchair can be done without equipment. Air boxing and Hiit workouts (timed upper body workout intervals) are some of the most best ways to get a cardio workout in a wheelchair w/o any equipment.

Remember, you need to do cardio. If you don’t, your body will store too much fat and increase your bad cholesterol (HDL) levels. Lifting weights are great for example, but it is not a cardio workout. Focus on any workout that increases your heart rate. Handcycling, wheelchair pushing, and Zumba are popular cardio choices of wheelchair-users.

Eat Clean & Healthy

Dr. Oz always says food is medicine, and this is true when you have a spinal cord injury. What you eat directly influences your heart health, and since we’re sedentary post-injury, eating the right food is key to maintaining a healthy heart. A handful of almonds or walnuts can be a great heart healthy snack, as well as berries and flaxseeds. Dark beans, oatmeal, red wine, tomatoes, spinach, orange fruit, orange and red veggies, broccoli and dark chocolate are other foods awesome for the heart.

When it comes to eating meat, chicken and turkey are great since they’re low in fat, and any fish that is high in omega-3s, like salmon, tuna or trout is also great for the heart. Eating naturally-sourced, organic, hormone-free meat can also prevent heart disease.

Don’t Smoke or Over-Drink

Smoking is extremely bad for your heart health. It increases your chance of getting heart disease up to four times. Smoking literally injures the blood vessel walls of the heart, and cholesterol loves to hideout in these little areas in the heart. Drinking too much as well can be bad for the heart, causing it to be weaker.

Keep a Healthy Body Weight

A healthy body weight is a great way to deter heart disease. Being overweight can cause diabetes, which can wreak havoc on the heart. Having extra fat in your mid-section/gut area can also distress the heart.

Check Your Cholesterol Levels Annually

Having your cholesterol levels checked annually is one more thing you can do to keep your heart health in check. This is something your doctor should recommend, but if they don’t, make sure you have them check it. If your cholesterol is running high, they can prescribe medication to help lower it.

Remember, treat your heart with tenderness. It works a lot, and non-stop. It’s an amazing machine, but it will only run for years to come if you treat it right. A SCI means you need to be extremely aware of your heart health. Please don’t forget it.

How do you keep your cardio health in top shape post-injury?

Learn more

SCI and the Risk for Heart Disease

Spinal Cord Injury and Cardiovascular Disease

Common cardiovascular problems and spinal cord injury

Videos on SCI Heart Health!

Cardiovascular Health following SCI

SCI BC Research – CHOICES Study

Stopwatch Sessions: Physical Activity & Heart Function


Photo courtesy of Asthma Allergy Blog

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