(CNN) - For many people with spinal cord injuries, keeping fit is tough. Exercises and rehabilitation don't always help patients maintain strength. But now new programs are being designed to give these patients outlets that provide movement and stimulation, not only for the body but for the mind.
Five years ago, John McVey fell from a ladder, crushing his spine and is now permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
"My paralysis is not straight across, it's angled, so I have no use of my abdominal muscles on this side and some use on the other side," he said.
McVey found his wheelchair confining; he was losing muscle strength, and wanted to get stronger.
That's when he heard about the virtual sailing program for people with spinal cord injuries, being used for research at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute in Baltimore.
Using a boat like vessel, called the V-Sail access sailing simulator system along with a computer, patients learn to maneuver a craft that simulates what it's like to sail a boat.
The course is 12 weeks and designed to improve upper body strength, general health and self-esteem for those with spinal cord injuries.
"We are hoping that these patients will show, demonstrable, measurable improvements in their physically and psychological well being," Dr. Albert Recio said.
However, with sailing comes water, so once the patients are ready, they're taken to the harbor where they steer their own sailboat.