It’s no secret that physical inactivity can be detrimental to overall wellness. But, just how significant is a lack of physical activity for medical staff on their feet all day and for employees who sit at desks hunched over their computers, operate heavy machinery or drive vehicles for hours at a time?
For a bit of perspective, consider this: The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially named physical inactivity as a global public health problem.¹ More than 30 percent of adults are considered insufficiently active, causing approximately 3.2 million deaths each year. This makes physical inactivity one of the deadliest conditions worldwide.²
Physical activity supports better health, and healthier workers call out sick less often. Employees who feel better can work more efficiently, leading to higher output.3 Diminished physical and mental health, on the other hand, has been linked to medical errors.4 But when healthier workers are feeling better and doing stronger work, that culture can spread. Efficiency is infectious.
Fortunately, physical therapists can help bridge the gap between unhealthy levels of physical inactivity and safe methods of exercise each day. With a thorough knowledge of healthcare best practices, they can play a powerful role in promoting physical activity both in and out of the rehabilitation facility.
Consider these three ways physical therapy can promote physical activity:
1. Encourage a Seamless Transition Into a Safe Exercise Regimen
During a physical therapy session, patients are provided individualized attention, instruction, and motivation to progress through the rehabilitation process. However, once a patient has been discharged, they can feel overwhelmed and afraid to participate in structured exercise on their own—especially if their pre-existing physical activity was low.
Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.5 For patients that fall below the 150-minute threshold, continuing with physical activity after their physical therapy sessions may be difficult.
A physical therapist has in-depth knowledge of a patient’s past medical history and physical activity level to encourage a seamless transition into a safe, committable exercise regimen. Plus, a PT can help combine an exercise program with other health and wellness initiatives, such as massage therapy or diet and nutrition, to provide immediate guidance for any issues that arise.
2. Promote Exercise and Physical Activity for Enjoyment and Pleasure
In a recent survey of more than 200 physical therapists, 85 percent of respondents stated they promoted physical activity beyond therapeutic treatment often or all of the time.6 The reasoning behind this continuation was simple: to promote a behavioral shift in patients that encouraged adherence to physical activity. However, providing a list of exercises wasn’t likely to do the trick. Instead, physical therapists found a way to promote physical activity for enjoyment and pleasure.
In Australia, this boiled down to group exercise settings.7 Group exercise positioned physical activity as a fun experience as opposed to a health requirement. Groups also played a crucial supportive role, finding methods of motivating patients beyond the advice of a physical therapist. Likewise, physical therapist-encouraged group exercise promotes sociability and sustainability, so a patient can remain active once finished with treatment.
3. Provide Strategies to Enhance Personal Responsibility and Independence
Beyond functional improvement, physical therapists help patients achieve overarching health and wellness goals, including overall flexibility, range of motion, and confidence. At the beginning of treatment, it can take quite a bit of time to motivate a patient to complete certain activities or exercises on their own. However, once the patient is aware of their own capabilities, it’s like watching a lightbulb go off.
Suddenly, patients have more courage to try new exercises. They feel determined to improve their physical and mental wellbeing and approach their physical activity with a newfound tenacity. This change does not happen out of the blue—it happens with the expert guidance and support of a physical therapist.
Once a patient has been discharged, they take the confidence and ability gifted to them by their experience with physical therapy onto their next chapter of life. In many cases, this results in an enhanced personal responsibility for their health and the independence to take their wellness into their own hands.
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1, 2. World Health Organization, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, “Physical Inactivity: A Global Public Health Problem,” 30 October 2020
3. Gubler T, Larkin I, Pierce L, “Doing Well by Making Well: The Impact of Corporate Wellness Programs on Employee Productivity,” December 19, 2017.
4. Melnyk BM, Orsolini L, Tan A, et al, “A National Study Links Nurses’ Physical and Mental Health to Medical Errors and Perceived Worksite Wellness,” February 2, 2018.
5. World Health Organization, Physical Activity, “Physical Activity and Adults,” 2020.
6. BMJ Journals, British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Physical activity promotion in Australian physiotherapy practice: how do physiotherapists promote physical activity and what factors influence promotion?” April 2019.
7.. BioMed Central, BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, “Physical activity promotion in daily exercise therapy: the perspectives of exercise therapists in German rehabilitation settings,” December 2019.