Paraplegic patients can now hope to prevent serious lifestyle illnesses with the development of a 'Superman' bike, which makes it possible for spinal patients to exercise themselves back to health.
The equipment called Ergys 2, which was partly developed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, was first designed for the American actor Christopher Reeve.
"Its the circulation problems that are the most difficult for them, and its circulation problems that kill them," says Jan Hoff, a professor of medicine at NTNU.
The new exercise equipment, partly developed at NTNU, makes it possible for spinal patients to exercise themselves back to health at least as far as the heart is concerned.
"Hard workouts, few repetitions. There is no other training approach that gives better results in improving oxygen uptake or muscle strength than that," Hoff was quoted as saying in a report by the Science Daily online.
It was Reeve who himself played Superman in films, but who became a quadrapelgic after a riding accident who financed the development of the rehab equipment, in the hopes of improving his own health. However, the actor died of heart failure when he was just 52 years old.
The Ergys 2, partly developed in the US, is a stationary training bicycle, where the patients legs and feet are strapped to a leg holder and pedals.
Electrodes are then fastened to the patients thigh and seat muscles, and electrical impulses trigger the muscles to contract and relax. The impulses are computer controlled to guarantee the best possible effect.
A study showed that patients who were paralysed from the chest or waist down experienced an average increase in their oxygen uptake by 25 per cent and in their heart pumping volume by fully 37 per cent after just eight weeks of training.