Cardiometabolic Changes After Spinal Cord Injury –A Discussion

This was an online event on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, from 5 pm – 7 pm Eastern Time.

See the recording of a discussion with two experts on cardiovascular and metabolic changes after spinal cord injury that lead to chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes and how we can fight these changes and improve our health.

Key Takeaways:

Everyone with SCI shows improvement in fitness (strength and endurance) when they exercise.

As little as 20 minutes of aerobic exercise AND 3 sets of strength training exercises for major functioning muscle groups at moderate to vigorous intensity 2 days a week improves fitness.

People with SCI whose autonomic function has been spared (paras, incomplete tetras who can get heart rate up to 130 beats per minute) improve heart health with:

At least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise 3 days a week will improve risk factors for heart disease.

People with higher SCI who have autonomic dysfunction (i.e., cannot get heart rate to 130 beats per minute) can improve heart health with exercising over the long-term.

Long-term exercise appears to improve risk factors for heart disease. The problem of grant funded research is that it is usually only for short-term interventions. A study of long-term exercise for tetraplegics is warranted.

How can we improve obesity?

Exercise helps (150 minutes a week of moderate intensity) but exercise alone is not enough. Nutrition must also be addressed so we burn more calories than we take in.


Christopher West, Ph.D., University of British Columbia and ICORD.

David McMillan, Ph.D., University of Miami and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Takeaways Continued:

Dysregulation of fat metabolism appears more prevalent among SCI survivors than glucose dysregulation. Both can be improved with:

Generally, 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise—30-60 min 3 to 5 days a week or bouts of at least 3 10-min bouts 5 days.

Everyone with SCI, regardless of level, can improve glucose and fat metabolizing with:

Specifically, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and CRT (circuit resistance training) produce better responses during and AFTER exercise. 2 hours after HIIT or CRT, resting metabolism continues to be increased, and there is more use of fat for paraplegics and tetraplegics.