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Exercise and nutrition

Exercise and nutrition

Eating well and moving our bodies is essential for good health and becomes even more important after a spinal cord injury because we are more likely to gain weight and develop the conditions associated with being overweight.

Ensuring good nutrition and factoring exercise into your routine can help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, improve overall wellbeing and self-esteem, help regulate bladder and bowel function, and support bone and skin health. Taking care of ourselves this way can also help manage the increased risk that spinal cord injured people have of diseases such as high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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

Eating well

Good nutrition is about prioritising the quality of the food we eat over quantity. A diet rich in protein from sources such as chicken, fish, eggs and nuts helps our bodies recover from illness and repairs tissues. Meanwhile, eating plenty of fibre from fruit and vegetables and foods including pasta and rice helps us keep on top of bowel management.

Keep in mind that spinal cord injured people don’t need as many calories as non-disabled people because of reduced activity levels.

Staying hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids can help avoid health problems such as dehydration, constipation, urinary tract infections and pressure ulcers. We should all be aiming to drink between 1.5 litres and 2 litres of fluids a day, unless there is a medical reason for you not to do so.



Number of calories burnt moving a manual wheelchair outdoors for 50 to 60 minutes


There are plenty of ways to exercise with a spinal cord injury – even moving a manual wheelchair will get your heart pumping. If you’re looking for a new hobby to help you keep fit, you could try yoga, tai chi, table tennis, bowls or swimming. If you prefer to exercise at home, there are brilliant sources of inspiration and follow-along content online. Good places to start are the WheelPower website or the Adapt to Perform YouTube channel, which has everything from guided high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and boxing wheelchair workouts to yoga and stretches in bed.

Healthy weight

Healthcare professionals use body mass index (BMI) to measure whether we’re a healthy weight for our height. Paraplegic people, who are injured below the waist, should try to keep their BMI between 17.1 and 23. Tetraplegic people injured below the neck should try to keep their BMI between 16.2 and 21.8.

Want to know more

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

Know where to turn for support?

Download our diet and exercise fact sheet by clicking the link on the right of the page

Our support coordinators and SCI nurse specialists are also here to advise you on nutrition and exercise. Get in touch to find out more here.