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Partnership key to fitness success for people with spinal cord injury

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UBC research shows personal input and collaboration provide positive results

New co-created research at UBC’s Okanagan campus has resulted in ground-breaking increases in physical activity and fitness for those living with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Jasmin Ma is a recent doctoral graduate in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. Along with her supervisor Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis, she recently published a study examining a time-efficient physical activity-coaching program created through community collaboration.

The key ingredient, says Ma, is partnership.

“The foundation of the project’s success is the networked approach. Health professionals, peers, researchers, and especially people living with SCI are all part of the development story,” Ma says of the intervention development process.

During the past three years, Ma worked with more than 300 people to explore the physical activity experiences of those living with SCI. The randomized controlled trial of the resulting intervention showed a five-fold increase in physical activity for its participants.

What’s impressive, says Ma, is six months after the trial ended, these levels of activity were maintained by the participants. Additionally, it’s also the first study to demonstrate improvements in fitness following a behavioural coaching intervention in this population.

While the physical activity progress for those living with SCI is in the study’s convincing numbers, the true success for Ma is how the community is thriving.

“Some of our participants have gone on to act as physical activity champions within their own networks,” she says. “Two of these outstanding individuals started the South Fraser Active Living Group and are working with Spinal Cord Injury BC to push the boundaries for accessible physical activity opportunities outside of Vancouver.”

With more than seven years of experience training clients with physical disability, Ma was no stranger to the barriers her clients face when it comes to exercise. Working individually with study participants, she found specific solutions to meet those challenges.

“The first step is asking the right questions, such as current physical activity levels and function, goals, barriers, preferences and available resources to collaboratively develop solutions,” says Ma. “After we get a good picture of our client’s situation, then it’s a matter of figuring out what strategies are needed to overcome their barriers. These strategies fall under the categories of education, referral to the right professionals, peers, or community resources, and physical activity prescription.”

Jasmin Ma is a recent doctoral graduate from the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Martin Ginis says the study will provide strong evidence for continued community-engaged research.

“The partnership with the SCI community and physiotherapists has resulted in a study that will improve the lives of people with spinal cord injury,” says Martin Ginis, director of the SCI Action Canada lab, which focuses on community-engaged research to advance physical activity participation in people living with spinal cord injury.”

“This study is a great step forward to collaborative community-engaged research,” adds Martin Ginis.

For Ma, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Vancouver campus, this is just the beginning. Her passion for bridging health care and recreation will continue as she works with Martin Ginis, the Rick Hansen Institute, Spinal Cord Injury BC, and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver to implement this intervention in a hospital setting.

The research, which received funding from an Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation grant and a Rick Hansen Institute grant, was published recently in Sports Medicine.

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

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