Exercise and nutrition

Exercise and nutrition

You’re more likely to put on weight with a spinal cord injury. This is because you’re not as active and your metabolism slows down.

Being overweight can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It also makes it difficult to move in and out of a wheelchair.

We know from our conversations with people with spinal injuries that putting on weight can affect someone’s self-esteem. But, by eating well and exercising, you can maintain a healthy weight and stay well.

Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising is important for someone with a spinal cord injury. It affects everything from your bowel movement to body image

Karen Biggs, our spinal cord injury nurse specialist

Healthy weight

Body mass index (BMI) is a way to measure if you’re a healthy weight for your height. When you have a spinal injury, you don’t need as many calories as someone who isn’t disabled as you’re not as active.

If you’re paraplegic and can’t move below the waist, try to keep your BMI between 17.1 and 23. If you’re tetraplegic, and can’t move anything below the neck, you’ll need less calories. Try to keep your BMI between 16.2 and 21.8, ideally.

Staying active

Regular, gentle exercise will help you burn calories. It will also:

  • Boost your cardiovascular system
  • Give you more energy
  • Build muscle strength, which is important for moving in and out of a wheelchair
  • Reduce muscle spasm, pain and stiffness
  • Improve your mental health

There are lots of ways to exercise with a spinal injury. Moving a manual wheelchair will get your heart rate pumping. You could also try yoga, tai chi, table tennis, bowls and swimming. If you prefer to exercise in the privacy of your own home, there is plenty of online content to access – a good start is to visit the WheelPower website.

Click on the ‘get support now’ button to speak to one of our support coordinators about advice on exercising.


Moving a manual wheelchair outdoors for 50 to 60 minutes burns 150 calories

Eating well

A healthy, nutritious diet will help you manage your weight, keep your skin healthy, have regular bowel movements, and feel better about yourself.

Focus on the quality of the food you eat, rather than quantity. Eat plenty of protein such as chicken, fish, eggs and nuts. This will help your body to recover from illness and repair tissues. Fibre – including pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables – will encourage regular bowel movements too.

More information

Get advice on nutrition and eating well from the British Nutrition Foundation

Find out more about opportunities to play disabled sport

Find out about groups and clubs for disabled people in your local area

Need support?

If you’d like to speak to someone about your diet or find out what exercise is right for you, book a call with a support worker, or speak to one of our nurses.