Tucked away in a research lab at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Hospital, an instructor is leading seated aerobics classes for people in Southwestern Ontario with a spinal cord injury (SCI). The instructor is there, but participants are exercising in the comfort of their own homes.
Videoconferencing exercise classes tailored for people with quadriplegia or paraplegia is an innovative research project underway with Lawson Health Research Institute’s SCI Group. Known as OPAN (Online Physical Activity and Nutrition Counseling Project), the project promotes physical activity and provides one-on-one nutrition counseling for those with a SCI.
For Lora Roch, 37, the classes are making a big difference in her life. “I have more movement, more ambition and energy, and a better take on health and nutrition,” she says. Lora broke her C5 vertebrae in a diving accident in 2003. In the past she tried exercising by watching seated aerobics videos. But she didn’t know if she was doing the exercises right, and wasn’t motivated to work out alone. “I kept saying I’d do it tomorrow – but tomorrow never came.”
Now Lora looks forward to the weekly videoconference. “The classes are really motivating and it’s great having the instant, specialized feedback,” she says.
Exercise has many benefits for those with a SCI, including preventing secondary health complications and improving well-being. But obtaining these benefits and overcoming barriers such as distance and access to fitness programs can be difficult. To address these issues, the SCI Research group is making in-home telehealth and ehealth one of its priority research areas.
In the OPAN study, those with a SCI participate in real-time seated aerobics classes using a web cam and videoconferencing from their home computers. “The classes are interactive,” says instructor Chris Fraser, a registered dietician at Parkwood Hospital and avid physical fitness instructor who injured her spinal cord in 1998. “The participants talk to me and to each other during the classes – we have fun and motivate each other.”
Participants’ health is closely monitored during the workout with heart rate and blood pressure monitors provided by the study. They are surveyed regularly to determine if the OPAN classes are increasing their physical activity outside of the classes.
Once the feasibility of OPAN is determined, the SCI group hopes to offer the program to a wider audience.