Exercise Interventions Targeting Obesity in Persons with Spinal Cord Injury

David McMillan, Jennifer Maher, Kevin Jacobs, Mark Nash, David Gater

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Citations (SciVal)


Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in an array of cardiometabolic complications, with obesity being the most common component risk of cardiometabolic disease (CMD) in this population. Recent Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine Clinical Practice Guidelines for CMD in SCI recommend physical exercise as a primary treatment strategy for the management of CMD in SCI. However, the high prevalence of obesity in SCI and the pleiotropic nature of this body habitus warrant strategies for tailoring exercise to specifically target obesity. In general, exercise for obesity management should aim primarily to induce a negative energy balance and secondarily to increase the use of fat as a fuel source. In persons with SCI, reductions in the muscle mass that can be recruited during activity limit the capacity for exercise to induce a calorie deficit. Furthermore, the available musculature exhibits a decreased oxidative capacity, limiting the utilization of fat during exercise. These constraints must be considered when designing exercise interventions for obesity management in SCI. Certain forms of exercise have a greater therapeutic potential in this population partly due to impacts on metabolism during recovery from exercise and at rest. In this article, we propose that exercise for obesity in SCI should target large muscle groups and aim to induce hypertrophy to increase total energy expenditure response to training. Furthermore, although carbohydrate reliance will be high during activity, certain forms of exercise might induce meaningful postexercise shifts in the use of fat as a fuel. General activity in this population is important for many components of health, but low energy cost of daily activities and limitations in upper body volitional exercise mean that exercise interventions targeting utilization and hypertrophy of large muscle groups will likely be required for obesity management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-120
Number of pages12
JournalTopics in spinal cord injury rehabilitation
Issue number1
Early online date19 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Spinal Injury Association.


  • body composition
  • body fat
  • energy expenditure
  • lifestyle interventions
  • physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Clinical Neurology


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