Today’s prosthetic technologies, such as improved carbon graphite and computer-controlled limbs, are designed to make daily living easier for prosthetic wearers. But, as most long-time prosthetic wearers know, acquiring the latest prosthetic technology is not enough; conditioning the body is also crucial to aid better movement.
In this article, we explore the Prosthetic Factor—what it is and how negating it can help prosthetic wearers function better than someone who is “able-bodied.” We’ll also delve deep into the benefits of two types of exercise: aerobic or cardio workouts and strength training.
What is the ‘Prosthetic Factor’?
Wearing a prosthetic leg places additional stress on other systems of the body. We at Amputee Store call this the Prosthetic Factor. Therefore, it’s essential for prosthetic wearers to focus on meeting additional requirements that are necessary to stay mobile.
While you can choose to use energy-storing feet or computer-controlled limbs which allow your mind to spend less energy navigating the terrain, at the end of the day, your cardiac output is still higher, and you’re prone to expend more energy when wearing a prosthesis. Plus, if you factor in the natural aging process, wearing a prosthesis is a lot of work for your mind and body. This is why it’s crucial for prosthetic wearers to stay fit both mentally and physically.
You can rely on two types of exercises to negate the prosthetic factor: cardio, which gets your heart pumping and sweat flowing, and strength training, which strengthens your muscles and prevents certain muscle groups from becoming too tight and negatively affecting your joints and walking stride.
Make your heart a more efficient muscle with cardio workouts
Wearing a prosthesis makes your heart work harder. This makes cardio a vital part of your fitness routine as it trains your heart to pump more efficiently and supply oxygenated blood to your muscles using less energy. Therefore, regular cardio workouts translate to less fatigue which can help you walk further and longer with your prosthesis without complications.
A group of researchers studied the effects of aerobic exercise on heart health. They split 53 adults into two groups: one group did high-intensity workouts four to five days a week for two years, while the other did yoga and other exercises that improved balance and flexibility.
The study, which was published in Circulation, a journal for cardiovascular health and disease, concluded that those who consistently did high-intensity workouts saw significant improvements in their heart’s performance. The findings also suggest that stiffening of the heart can be prevented and even reversed through regular exercise.
But if you’re not a fan of intense cardio activities like running and jogging, no worries. Another study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that walking is just as effective in reducing the risk of heart disease.
No matter how you look at it, the verdict is that cardio workouts effectively prepare your cardiac system to recover faster and more efficiently. And because cardio exercises train your heart to be more efficient, it successfully negates the additional loads that a prosthetic user has to deal with.
Cardio exercises to consider
If you’re just transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle, it’s best to work in aerobic routines gradually. You can start by brisk walking for 30 minutes 5 times a week. If you’re relatively active, you may want to consider cycling.
A study published in Aging Cell, the official journal of the Anatomical Society, followed 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 and compared them with 75 people of similar age but rarely or never exercised.
The study found that cyclists have more muscle mass and strength, as well as lower levels of body fat and cholesterol compared with the sedentary group. Less body fat means less to carry around throughout the day and more muscle mass to help you carry your weight. Think of it as driving a lightweight car that’s powered by a V8 engine.
"We now have strong evidence that encouraging people to commit to regular exercise throughout their lives is a viable solution to the problem that we are living longer but not healthier," Janet Lord, the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Aging at the University of Birmingham in the UK, said in a statement.
Benefits of strength training
While cardio has a whole host of benefits, another type of exercise that you have to incorporate in your routine is strength training, which can help further melt fat and build muscle mass.
Strength training exercises are characterized by the use of weight to create resistance against the pull of gravity. Some of the more traditional strength training exercises include using your own body weight, elastic bands, free weights (i.e., barbells or dumbbells), or weighted ankle cuffs.
If you have a home gym, you can look up free workout programs on Pinterest or YouTube and get started. However, you also have to ensure that you don’t wear out your muscles by poor execution. Remember that you can burn fat and build stronger, sturdier muscles by using heavy weights for fewer reps or lighter weights for more reps.
If the more traditional approach to strength train is not your cup of tea, you can try tai chi which works best for increasing muscle strength and improving balance. This is because the Chinese martial art combines a series of flowing movements that are performed slowly and gently with a high degree of focus and attention paid to deep breathing. And the best thing about tai chi is that practitioners go at their own pace, making the martial art accessible for different people, regardless of their age or fitness level.
Furthermore, tai chi is particularly beneficial for prosthetic wearers because balance is an essential component of walking with a prosthesis. It strengthens your adductors, which is the muscle group responsible for standing on one limb, and strong adductors means dramatically improved walking. Also, strengthening this muscle group will also enhance balance which means faster recovery especially when you stumble or fall post-amputation.
Additional benefits of cardio exercises
Cardio exercises not only help you negate the prosthetic factor but also help slow down aging. A study conducted by researchers at McMaster University found that people over 40 who regularly performed cardio exercises had healthier skin than their sedentary peers. The study also noted that the overall composition of the regular exercisers’ skin was comparable to that of 20- to 30-year-olds.
The reason why working out appears to play a role in skin health is not yet clear, but researchers have found elevated levels of a substance critical to cell health called IL-15 in skin samples of participants after exercise. It’s highly possible that this substance is responsible for improved skin health. However, more research is still required to look into this biological phenomenon.
Another component of aging is memory loss, which the scientific community is working hard against. Another study builds a stronger case for cardio as an antidote for aging. The study looked into older women with MCI, and researchers found a link between aerobic exercise and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, an area in the brain that’s involved in learning and memory.
A total of 86 women between 70 and 80 years old with MCI were randomly assigned to do one of three types of training twice a week for six months: aerobic (i.e., walking and swimming), resistance training (i.e., weight lifting), or balance.
Only the women in the aerobic group were found to have significant increases in hippocampal volume, but more studies are needed to determine what effect this has on cognitive performance.
With all the tools required to negate the prosthetic factor readily available to you, nothing can stop you from making your body more efficient and ready for wearing a prosthetic leg. As soon as you get started on your workout regimen, you will surely feel a wide range of effects, from an improved mood to higher stamina.
And as you’re focused on improving and making your body more efficient, Prosthetists and prosthetic manufacturers are engineering better prosthetic limbs to help you achieve your goals and further negate the prosthetic factor.Let us know your thoughts on how to neutralize the prosthetic factor by commenting below.