Regular and consistent physical activity is invaluable for people with limb loss. It is essential to maintain their core strength and mobility.
However, getting in shape and staying active after a significant injury can be challenging. Other than the physical wounds, your mental health also suffers. Thus it can take a while before you gather enough courage to get back on your fitness journey.
Here are some ways you can (re)start your fitness journey to lead an independent and active life.
1. Eating Right
Every fitness journey starts with a proper meal. What you eat can affect your physical as well as mental health.
As an amputee, it can be challenging to maintain your health. However, eating mindfully can reduce the need for prosthetics and lower the risk of diseases.
Let’s see how you can achieve the goal of eating right.
· Meal Size
A balanced diet comprises all nutrients your body needs. When planning the meal, fill up one-quarter of your plate with meat or meat alternatives like tofu, beans, lentils, and eggs.
Fill one quarter with your choice of whole grains like pasta, rice, quinoa, or starchy vegetables such as pumpkin. The remaining half of your plate can be filled with colorful vegetables of the season, such as capsicum, broccoli, spinach, etc. Also include a small amount of fat in the form of olive oil, ghee, or fish.
Have two servings of fruit each day. Limit your sugar intake. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. When eating out, order a side of salads to make sure you get your intake of veggies.
· Have More Veggies
It is advised to consume five to six servings of vegetables every day. Rather than waiting for lunch or dinner to have your veggies, spread them throughout the day to increase your intake.
Vegetables are a significant source of fiber that helps improve digestion. It also keeps you fuller for longer. This means that you can’t opt for unhealthy snacks during the day.
If you have diabetes, avoid starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, and root vegetables. Vegetables such as cucumber, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicum, salad greens, and zucchini do not increase blood sugar levels.
Rather than only having veggies with lunch and dinner, you can have them as a healthy snack. If that does not appeal, try having a salad or vegetable sandwich at lunch. Or have veggies at breakfast. Beans, mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes are some vegetables that go with almost any breakfast.
Avoid reaching out for crisps and chocolates as a midday snack. These high-energy snacks will give an instant boost, but they are full of processed sugar and artificial flavors that are not good for you.
Try healthier snacks such as apples with peanut butter, vegetables with dips, mixed nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or yogurt. To ensure you are sticking to healthier options, stock your kitchen with a wide variety of options.
For some people cooking is a huge task. To make it easier on yourself, cook in batches and freeze extra portions. This way you will not have to cook every day.
There are also healthier convenience meal choices if you do not want to cook. Tinned tuna or salmon, smoked salmon, pre-cooked roasted chicken, tinned beans, and lentils are some of the many options in the supermarket. Just ensure that you read the labels to check for the nutritious value of the food you buy.
· Maintaining your Weight
For pain-free use of prosthetics, you will need to maintain a healthy weight. However, that doesn’t mean you have to focus on a number on the scale all the time.
If you are taking a balanced diet and taking care of your physical and mental health, you will be able to maintain your ideal weight. So just prioritize your health.
2. Physical Activity
Let’s see all the physical activities you can do.
Warming up your body is an absolute must. It increases your flexibility and also prevents any nasty injuries. Create a simple stretch routine to follow before and after your workout.
Lying flat on your stomach and stretching your upper body can help open up the lower body. Flooding your arms over to the opposite side and stretching can open up your shoulder muscles. Focus on the muscles that seem tense and ache more.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to work up your cardiovascular health. It will also help you activate other significant muscles and increase your aerobic endurance. Other than the physical benefits, walking will also lift your mood. Simple cardio can get you out of your mental funk.
If you have just started exercising, start with shorter distances. Do not overexert yourself. If walking every day seems like a big task, you can walk every other day. Anything to build a habit and routine around fitness.
Once you have built the habit, you must gradually increase the difficulty level. A more straightforward yet effective way to do this is to start walking on uneven terrain. This will help you build endurance as uneven trail forces the body to balance. This will add stability to your core which is essential for your fitness as an amputee.
Other ways to strengthen your core and improve your balance and stability are going for long walks on rougher terrain.
If walking is not for you, you can give biking a try. Biking is a low-impact exercise that can help you build balance and endurance. It will also improve your cardiovascular health.
Stationary bikes are an excellent alternative to real bikes. You can even keep one at your house for greater convenience. Another great alternative is the e-bike. It has an automatic assist feature. It takes over when you start to get tired of paddling.
· Activating the Core
It is essential that you work on strengthening the core. A weak core can give you back aches. Here are some exercises to build your core strength:
a. Ball Rolling
Take any small ball the size of a tennis ball. Keep it under your natural foot while using a chair to stabilize yourself. Balance yourself on your prosthesis, and roll the ball under the foot to activate your core. Gradually you can progress to using bigger balls.
b. Ball Sitting
This may sound simple, but it will require high core strength to achieve the goal. For that, you have to sit on the ball with your feet on the ground and stop the ball from rolling.
c. Leg Balance
Stand on one leg while stabilizing yourself with a chair. At first, start with 10 to 15 seconds on each leg. And then gradually increase the time to at least 60 seconds. This exercise will also activate your glutes.
· Hitting the Gym
Some people prefer to go for hardcore exercise, and walking or biking is not for them. If you also enjoy hitting the gym, here are ten pieces of equipment that can improve your gym experience. You can even buy these for your home gym.
a. Gymboss timer
This is the most helpful equipment for home exercises. It is very effective for interval training. It can help you set the number of cycles or reps of high intensity/low intensity.
The gym boss timer has an option for 2 minutes and 3 minutes rounds and 30 seconds to 1-minute long rest periods. It allows you to set it for up to 12 rounds.
Also called cuff weights, these are great equipment to add resistance to your exercise routine. You can use the cuff weights with grip gloves for an improved experience.
c. Arm Cycle
Arm cycles are very effective in loosening shoulder joints. It is recommended to be used for about 10 minutes. More warm-up equipment will help get your circulation and heart rate up.
d. Gripping Gloves
If you have impaired hand movement, gripping gloves will be very effective. They will prevent you from injuring your hand while lifting or pulling objects.
Push gloves are a kind of gripping gloves that are effective if you push for cardio.
e. FES Bike
The FES stationary bike has an assist feature to help you record user progress. You can also use its game features while cycling.
f. Medicine ball
Medicine balls are a great choice because they can be used in many ways. It can help you with balance, core strength, and coordination. If you have impaired hand movement, you can use your gripping gloves.
If you are not too keen on boxing, this is the best option to work on endurance and strength. It will help you work on pushing and pulling movements. Do not forget to use your gripping gloves.
This is the most common exercise equipment that therapists often give their patients. The added benefit of theraband is that you can get it for your home exercise as well. Remember to start with the yellow, the lightest resistance, and gradually progress to higher resistance.
i. Total Gym
The total gym can be very effective in improving mind-to-muscle coordination. You can also use it to work on weight bearing.
j. Heavy bag
A heavy bag can help you increase your muscle endurance and range of motion. You can use it if you are standing or in a wheelchair.
· Home Workouts
When working out from home, falling behind on the fitness routine is easy. It helps to join an online workout session or tune in to videos. There are plenty of free courses available online that can teach you how to have a workout that works for you. It also tells how to prevent injuries, and have a healthier lifestyle.
You can find new ways to support your physical health: yoga, spin bikes, running, and whatever else that might work for you.
· Finding the Right Shoes
Shoes are essential for workouts. Recently some manufacturers have started to design shoes for amputees to help them in their fitness journey.
For instance, Nike created the FlyEase, a shoe that would also work for amputees. Some other options are Billy Footwear, Zappos Single, and Different Size Shoe Program.
These are some of the shoes designed keeping amputees in mind. They even let you buy a single shoe or create a pair of different sizes. This not only cuts costs but also eliminates waste.
Here are some tips to help you find the shoe that will add a spring to your feet.
- If you can, avoid ordering shoes online. Trying out the pair in person and on different surfaces is wiser. Apart from the risk of getting something entirely different from what you saw online, there is also the matter of you having particular needs.
Do not be scared to keep looking. Do not settle until you have found the perfect pair. If you are out of options other than to shop online, only stick to the manufacturers you trust. And the ones who have a good return policy.
- When trying out the shoe, ensure it is easy to get it on and off. It will be highly inconvenient if you require assistance to get your shoes on. It is okay if it is an occasional occurrence. But regularly, make sure you buy a shoe that does not make you sacrifice your independence.
- Check the heel height. Only buy the height if it is within your comfort limits. Most retailers have the heel size mentioned. Some shoes even have adjustable heels, which are even better.
- Do not compromise on your fashion taste. Just because you have specific needs, it does not mean you have to ignore the aesthetics of it.
After all, a pair of good shoes can instantly lift your look of the day. This is why many people prefer sneakers. They come in many designs and colors while also providing maximum comfort. And they can be paired with both jeans and dresses. So do not forget to look for emotional comfort as much as physical comfort.
· Fitness Apps
There are many apps that are geared toward amputees working towards rehabilitation. Ottobock Fitness is one such app designed in collaboration with prosthetics experts. It has over 16 rehabilitation and fitness routines for lower-limb amputees.
While it is true that an app is not an alternative to a physical therapist, it can be used in addition to therapy. The rehabilitative exercises are specifically designed for amputees’ fitness. The exercises can help you build and maintain endurance, coordination, & balance.
These exercises require minimal equipment, so you can easily do these from the comfort of your home. All you will need is a pillow or a ball.
Since the exercises are to be done at home, they are pretty simple, and the instructions are comprehensive and detailed. These simple exercises can be integrated into an everyday fitness routine.
The exercise focuses on strengthening the upper body muscles. This stabilizes the spine and thus improves gait. The coordination exercises improve your balance and help you practice standing securely on a prosthetic leg.
Such fitness apps are excellent for amputees to improve mobility and independence.
Other than a selection of exercise options, many fitness apps also include:
➢ You can create a customized exercise routine.
➢ Option to listen to your choice of music during the workout.
➢ A progress tracker to help you remain motivated and disciplined.
➢ Alarms and reminders to prompt you to exercise at the time set by you.
➢ You can tweak your exercise routine to work according to your therapy plan.
3. The Right Prosthetics
There are tons of exercise routines and equipment to help you get fit. But what if it is your prosthetic that is holding you back?
With newer technology, you can now invest in prosthetics that can assist you in getting fitter—the traditional prosthetics provide the essential functions. However, modern prosthetics are available that can help you with your specific tasks and activities.
a. Prosthetic Feet
Prosthetic legs are designed for the most common functions of walking, running, and jumping. However, modern prosthetic devices are now designed for athletic usage to be used for any sport.
A curved blade-shaped prosthetic is effective for runners. It is made from carbon fiber and provides excellent flexibility and strength. The device must have a good balance so that you can indulge in sprinting, jumping, and other high-impact activities.
Ossur and Ottobock are the top prosthetic device manufacturers. You can find a prosthetic for any activity. They have prosthetics for short-distance sprinting, longer-distance sprinting, all-around running, recreational sports, or jogging.
The Ottobock Runner is an adjustable runner’s blade. You can modify the running prosthesis to your individual needs. It is resilient and robust. It is available in different stiffness levels based on your body size and weight.
There are more options as well. If you are a swimmer, Freedom Innovations Swim Foot will be very effective for you. Freedom Innovations have several prosthetic options for swimmers. Some of these are hybrid options that you can use for both swimming and walking.
The Eldorado Z-Axis Foot is specifically designed for climbers. It is pretty popular among climbers because of its compact and rugged design. The rubber climbing shoe provides the fiction needed to climb all terrains and trails.
b. Prosthetic Knees
With modern technology, the knee prosthetic can replicate natural knee movements. This is only possible due to the hydraulics system as a knee joint is a complex system to replicate artificially.
These knee devices are also waterproof, so they do not stop working if they are submerged in water. Some models are also resilient to sand and dust.
Microprocessor knees have helped amputees enjoy all sorts of physical activities without worry.
The powered knee prosthetics are designed with solid rotation hydraulics. This helps with running, sprinting, and rotating the knee. Another type of powered knee is designed with rapid flexion. This increases stability as it makes the controlled deceleration possible.
The user can therefore transition easily between walking and running. More multifunctional knee devices can allow you to indulge in activities such as skiing, scuba diving, snowboarding, surfing, and climbing.
With the high advancements, you can now also find prosthetics that are battery-powered and prosthetic devices that can be linked to your smartphone. This can help you adjust the settings using the phone.
c. Arms & Hand Prosthetics
Similarly, arm and hand prosthetics are also designed for various activities – from combing our hair to fishing.
Mert Lawwill Device is a specialized hand attachment that can help you ride a bike or snowmobile. It can be easily attached to any handlebar, allowing complete control over the operated equipment.
Then there are specific devices to help you with weight training and heavy lifting. In fact, some devices can even help you if you are deciding to be a competitive weightlifter.
Other specialized arm prosthetics include prosthetic devices for fishing, archery, playing golf, shooting, and batting.
Before starting your fitness journey, you must consider your current fitness levels. You cannot go from one to a hundred in a few days.
Set realistic goals and track your progress using fitness apps, step counters, a therapist, or even an accountability buddy. A straightforward way is to activate the health monitor on your smartphone. It will give you a reality check on how often you move or sit.
Since it is a journey and a lifelong journey, you will fall. So do not give up. Keep going. Take some rest and then restart. In a fitness journey, rest is just as crucial for your body as is exerting yourself.
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy this journey.