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Online Physical Activity & Nutrition


Online Physical Activity & Nutrition

Tucked away in a research lab in Parkwood Hospital, Chris Fraser is leading seated aerobics classes for people in London with a spinal cord injury (SCI). Chris is there, but the people aren’t. They’re 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 Counselling Project), the project promotes physical activity and provides one-on-one nutrition counselling for those with a SCI.

Exercise has many benefits for those with a spinal cord injury, including the prevention of secondary health complications and improved well-being. But obtaining these benefits and overcoming barriers such as distance and access to fitness programs can be difficult without the right support. To address these issues, the SCI Research group is making in home tele-health and health one of its priority research areas.

Chris Fraser, centre, leads the class while Bonnie Chapman, left, monitors the music and Kelly Evoy, right, monitors the broadcast for technical issues. Participants can be seen on the TV screen in the background.

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 dietitian at Parkwood Hospital and avid physical fitness instructor. “The participants can talk to me and to each other during the classes – we have fun and motivate each other.” She adds the classes are a great opportunity for social interaction, with lots of discussion before and after the classes. If participants want to discuss physical activity or nutrition counselling, Chris provides it through one-on-one videoconferencing outside of class time.

Participants are closely monitored during the workout, through heart rate and blood pressure monitors provided by the study.

For each segment of the study the classes are offered twice a week for nine weeks. After the segment, participants receive a USB drive with a recording of the classes so they can continue exercising on their own.

Participants are surveyed regularly to determine if the OPAN classes are increasing their physical activity outside of the classes. Feedback reflects the success of this study. including, “I love having accessibility to a program like this – it makes me exercise more,” and “It’s very encouraging how these classes are increasing my stamina.”

The SCI Research Group developed the OPAN study in collaboration with SCI Action Canada, and with funding from the Rick Hansen Institute.

Once the feasibility of OPAN is determined, the SCI group hopes to offer the program more broadly to those with a SCI injury.

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