Exercise and Diet

Reprinted from PN December 2012

Maintaining proper eating habits when you are following an exercise program is the Achilles heel for most people.

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Physical fitness is a daunting challenge for many of us. It’s no wonder the weight and health of the nation appears to be getting worse.

I had never considered physical fitness a top priority until I was faced with paralysis as a result of spinal-cord injury (SCI). Because people with SCI are more prone to chronic illness, the need to become and remain physically fit became real and immediate for me.

It has taken me some time to create a system to remain physically fit. After 15-plus years, I’ve finally come up with a few practices that have helped me not only stay fit but also feel better in the process.

Anyone with SCI knows some limitations are as much a part of life as eating, breathing, and sleeping. Compound that with the limits/restrictions facing someone in prison — limited food selection, access to workout equipment, sedentary lifestyle, etc. — and the challenges are many.

Physical fitness became a top priority for Chablis Dandridge after his paralysis.

I have lived with those realities for the past seven and a half years. But I’ve not let these circumstances deter my efforts at remaining physically fit.

The Achilles Heel

The most important part of my program is maintaining proper eating habits. This is the Achilles heel for most of us. The following ideas will help:

Observe government nutritional guidelines. A lot of smart people are paid to study, compile, and report the information the government publishes for the public’s benefit.

Make trades, not sacrifices. Many people believe it’s all or nothing: “I can’t eat ice cream because I don’t know when to stop.” This isn’t necessarily so. Don’t cut out all the feel-good items from your diet, just limit them.

Consider portion control. You might be surprised to find out the bag of chips you had at lunch was actually 2.5 servings. Try splitting up items and eating only half the amount you usually consume. 

The Dreadful Part

When it comes to exercise, most of us dread it. Dreadful or not, it’s an integral part of the physical fitness experience. These are a few suggestions that will get you started:

Start slowly with simple, manageable goals. Walk or push 15 minutes three days a week. Create a habit, repeat a small task, and don’t get discouraged. If you persevere it will become easier and more second nature. Slowly increase the intensity of the task.

Don’t overdo it! As you progress you may want to do more. Observe healthy workout habits, and balance your activities accordingly. Because I’m paraplegic and only able to do upper-body exercises, I work out only four days a week and never for more than an hour and a half. I’m often tempted to do more, especially when I’m in a zone, but this body has to last me for the rest of my life, so moderation is a must.

Be creative with your workouts. I like to switch up my routines often. I will lift light weights one week and heavier ones the next. Some weeks I do two days of calisthenics and two days of weight training. Other times I push my chair two miles for two of the days and do lightweight rapid weight training. Variety helps to avoid boredom and keeps the body from becoming complacent.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Lastly, nothing good can be accomplished without proper rest. It not only helps your body heal and prepare for what’s next but also helps rejuvenate your mind.

With good diet, exercise and rest, you’re on your way to a more physically fit future.

Limitations can be inhibiting, but they should not stop you. Those with the courage to try and overcome the odds will succeed.


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