Some see a workout. We see a way to understand and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Paraplegics are four times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, and twice as likely to suffer a heart attack. Yet we still don’t understand whether this is related to disability or lifestyle factors.

There is little research into the impact of exercise for people with a disability but thanks to the support of our alumni, we were able to appoint Dr Jean-Philippe Walhin to lead research in this field.

Jean-Philippe’s team in the Centre for DisAbility, Sport and Health (DASH) measures the physical activity levels of wheelchair users and amputees to find out how activity can help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Their ultimate goal is to help people with physical limitations improve their long-term health.

His research on wheelchair users and amputees has already raised public awareness of the importance of exercise amongst people with a disability. The next stage of the project will involve young, healthy and active participants adopting the lifestyle of wheelchair users for a week in order to help understand the changes that occur when physical activity is reduced drastically. It will also enable researchers to assess whether upper body exercise can prevent a deterioration in general health.

Jean-Philippe will go on to look into Functional Electrical Stimulation (similar to a Slendertone belt) in order to maintain or increase the leg muscles of individuals who are regular wheelchair users following a spinal cord injury. The team will then be able to look into the impact of strengthened leg muscle on overall health.

It’s just one of the ways that our researchers look further.

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