Physical exercise leads to large health benefits for all of us, including people living with spinal cord injuries.

In the United States, over a quarter million people live with spinal cord injuries (SCI). The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports the average remaining years of life for persons with spinal cord injuries "have not improved since the 1980s and remain significantly below life expectancies of persons without SCI."  

Adults with spinal cord injuries face many barriers in getting regular exercise, but the fitness and cardiovascular benefits are many, from improved breathing to greater independence. Consequently, health professionals and researchers are actively working to design exercise guidelines and better understand the effects of exercise in persons with SCI.

As part of this effort, CSU Los Angeles engineers, rehabilitation counseling, and kinesiology students and faculty are working together to research the effects of exercise on cardiovascular fitness in individuals with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and develop a motivational in-home exercise monitoring system.

The multi-disciplinary team is headed by Principal Investigator Dr. Stefan Keslacy and includes Dr. Deborah Won, an associate professor of electrical engineering and member of the CSUPERB Faculty Consensus Group.  Dr. Won leads the engineering sub-team, collaborating with rehabilitation counseling professor, Dr. Roxanna Pebdani, and kinesiology faculty members Drs. Ray de Leon, Christine Dy, and Dr. Keslacy. The project team's progress depends on the collaborative work and contributions of CSU Los Angeles students, named by Dr. Keslacy the Disability, Rehabilitation, Engineering Access for Minorities (DREAM) team.

Dr. Won and the DREAM team of engineering students are developing a wireless sensor-networked system and "app" to gamify exercises for persons with SCI.  Other systems available are plagued with recording issues during exercise, issues that are particularly problematic when working with the SCI population. The mobile app Dr. Won's team is developing will improve the tracking of energy expenditures. Future versions of the monitoring system will include cloud-based multiplayer functionality and a clinician-facing portal.

The collaborative research project is supported by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

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Caption for gallery image below: Cal State LA’s DREAM Engineering Team, from left to right: Deborah Won, Isaac Bowser, Amit Pal, Christine Ong, James Velasco, Omar Ochoa, James Enciso, Ellie Tjara, Jackson Tu.  Not pictured: James Sunthonlap, Kevin Monsalvo, KaMun Lee. Photo credits to Hasmik Simon.