We are all aware of the benefits of staying physically active, especially if aging in the presence of chronic disease. However, studies suggest that there is often a decrease in physical activity after limb loss, which has harmful effects on overall health and functioning. So, how can you deviate from the trend and resume long-term physical activity after amputation?
The health standard
Despite the widespread belief that successful aging means avoiding disease and disability, studies show that the absence of both is not a critical factor in well-aging. Simply put, people can age well despite any disability.
Physical activity is one of the most critical factors that contribute to aging well. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2020 Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior, people need 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts per week. Besides that, another 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercises per week is a must.
The guidelines also emphasize that older adults need to focus on strength training and functional balance activities three times a week to improve function and prevent falls.
Although these guidelines may sound daunting, especially if you’ve only recently finished your limb loss physical therapy, it is doable. But first, you need to evaluate your current activity level and then plan what activities you’d like to do in the future.
Evaluation and planning
Consider the activities you already do within a typical week. Then, think about what activities you enjoyed pre-amputation and if you’d like to resume them now? Lastly, plan how you can add more activity to your daily routine. This planning exercise aims to decrease the time you spend being sedentary and increase physical activity.
So, what regular tasks count as physical activity? These can be the tasks that you need to do regularly, like doing the groceries and household chores. Other activities that don’t feel like exercise also count, such as dancing, gardening, or playing with your children or grandchildren. A great way to know whether these activities count as moderate- or vigorous-intensity is to wear a fitness tracker or a wrist-based heart monitor.
Once you’ve narrowed down the activities you already do and those you’d like to do regularly, plan to increase the amount and intensity gradually. You can safely do this with the help of a physical therapist or perhaps a specialized trainer. Easing progressively into physical activities is a great way to manage the typical pains and soreness that come with performing any new activity.
Most importantly, you must also plan for any possible barriers. Increasing physical activity shortly after amputation will be filled with challenges and questions. This is where support, whether from your prosthetist or a certified peer visitor, can be a huge help.
According to research, having a solid support system is crucial to keep going, especially when things get tough. Researchers have also found that setting up a “buddy system” with peers and having access to facilities in your community can encourage long-term physical activity.
Resources that can help you stick to long-term physical activity
If your hospital hasn’t assigned a peer visitor to you yet, you can request a peer visit from any of Amputee Coalition’s Certified Peer Visitors. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 888-267-5669 ext. 8124.
You can also look for a support group near you. If you’re unsure where to find them in your area, you can find over 400 registered support groups at Amputee Coalition.
To improve your activity level and nutrition, check out the National Center on Health Physical Activity and Disability’s personalized physical activity and nutrition program. They also have other programs and resources to help those with mobility limitations improve their activity level.
The bottom line
Planning for long-term physical activity, especially after amputation, is vital to your overall health. Regular physical activity can significantly improve your health by boosting your immune system, helping you sleep better, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure, lowering stress, and increasing your mood.
Regular physical activity is also essential for your gait and posture, especially if using a prosthetic limb. With the resources we shared above, maintaining regular physical activity for the rest of your life can be more accessible, especially with support from your healthcare team, peer visitors, and a support group.