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What Motivates Individuals With Limb Loss to Be Physically Active?

    We all know the benefits of being physically active. Individuals who clock in regular physical activity live longer and are protected from at least 25 chronic illnesses, including depression and cardiovascular disease. However, for people with limb loss, numerous barriers exist to engaging in physical activity, increasing their disease burden. So, researchers studied the common motivators to engage in leisure time physical activity among amputees.

     Researchers found the common motivators that encourage amputees to be physically active.

    In the study published in November 2022, the researchers defined leisure time physical activity as an activity that the study participants choose to do that is not related to their job, maintaining their home, or transportation. This physical activity can be fitness activities like walking or lifting, hobbies like yoga or gardening, or traditional sports like golf.   

    The authors conducted a qualitative study using in-depth interviews and photo diaries and analyzed the data to identify key themes and insights. Through this study, the researchers aimed to explore the experiences that enhanced motivation to engage in physical activity among amputees.

    Body image and pride  

    The researchers found that intrinsic motivations to be active were personal and not universal. One such motivation they found was related to pride and body image.

    Participants experienced pride and shame related to their physical identity as an amputee. Their negative body image was cultivated by changes they experienced after amputation, such as gaining weight, struggling with clothes fitting over their prosthetic limb, and feeling an increased disability stigma.

    However, for some participants, these negative feelings helped increase their motivation to be physically active. Engaging in physical activity allowed them to control their weight and improve function and mobility, countering their poor body image and amplifying their positive body image.

    Besides body image, pride also drove physical activity motivation. Several participants drew on moments when they felt pride in their accomplishments, such as when their support system praised them.

    A need for connectedness  

    Although individual participants described competence and autonomy as their motivation, the need for connectedness also influenced their motivation to participate in leisure time physical activity. The feelings of belonging were generated through activity participation and various forms of social support. 

    Feelings of belonging also led to being motivated to participate in leisure time physical activity, as being connected to the amputee community offered a sense of belonging unavailable through their able-bodied social networks. According to Roslyn, one of the study participants, belonging to an amputee community can give you the "best support in the world" as they know what you go through.

    Social and physical environment  

    Activities held in accessible environments make leisure time physical activity participation easier. The study participants described an accessible environment as having parking nearby, even solid ground, and toilet facilities that didn't require walking through soft soil.

    The researchers also found that an inclusive social environment is crucial to increased motivation and enhanced enjoyment.

    Prosthesis fit  

    Although how a prosthetic limb fits was not identified as a motivator, it was recognized as a facilitator as it reduced the barrier to enjoying physical activities. The researchers found that study participants engaged in physical activities more often when their prosthetic socket didn't slip, cause pain, or irritate the skin around the residual limb.

    The bottom line  

    Physical activity for amputees can be rewarding and challenging, with benefits such as increased confidence and improved mental health. On a larger scale, participating in physical activities can help challenge stereotypes and stigmas associated with limb loss, promoting greater understanding and acceptance within society.  

    But for amputees to enjoy the benefits of physical activity, they also need a supportive and inclusive environment. The findings of this study can help inform the development of programs and interventions that promote physical activity and well-being among individuals with limb loss.