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Health & Exercise Forum

October is National Physical Therapy Month: Keep on Moving!

Oct 19, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyOctober is National Physical Therapy Month. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) would like the nation to recognize the positive role physical therapy plays in your health and wellness. We are passionate about what we do! No, we don’t save lives, but we do save lifestyles and quality of life! PT’s are great people. We have a special gift to provide healthcare unique to our field. For example, while many different health care professionals treat back pain, PT’s are some of the very few working to rehabilitate stroke and head injury victims, amputees, children with cerebral palsy and other serious neurological and orthopedic disorders.

In honor of physical therapy month, I would like to share a story about a friend of mine who has multiple sclerosis (MS). Mary graduated from Temple University, School of Physical Therapy, with my wife and me in 1981. Shortly after graduation, she was married and had a daughter. Less than one year later she woke up unable to walk, with a weak and numb arm and leg. She was diagnosed with MS. Fortunately, over the past 28 years, her problem has not been aggressive and has progressed very slowly. This, along with a very supportive husband, has allowed her to raise four daughters, work part-time and stay very healthy and active. What is most impressive about Mary’s life with MS is the fact that she has never allowed MS to define her. She never complains and always sets goals. This year, for example, Mary celebrated her 50th birthday and set a goal to run a 10 mile race on the beach in New Jersey. She called me to join her for her birthday race. We finished the race together, holding our hands and heads high. I am proud and fortunate to call Mary and her husband, Tim, my friends. They inspire me and enrich my life.

I hope this story inspires you too. However, Mary may have pushed herself too far as she struggled to finish the race. She was fatigued for weeks after and promised not to run more than 3 miles at one time again. People with MS should avoid taking themselves to maximum fatigue. But, determination is invaluable. Remember, you cannot always control your gene pool or what happens to your body, however, you can control your lifestyle. Research suggests that lifestyle may play the biggest role on how healthy you are and how long you live. The food you eat, what you drink, if you smoke, how active you are and how you handle stress are critical factors that determine your longevity. Research also tells us that smoking, physical inactivity, and poor eating habits are the leading causes of death, in that order.

Physical activity is one of the most important factors in improving a lifestyle in a positive way. A minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days per week can greatly contribute to longevity.

Researchers have found that the benefits of regular physical activity are numerous. Some of the more important benefits are:

  • Loss or Maintained Body Weight
  • Reduces LDL /Raises HDL Cholesterol
  • Improves Circulation and Blood Pressure
  • Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
  • Prevents Bone Loss
  • Reduces Stress/Muscle Tension
  • Lowers Risk of Depression
  • Improves Sleep Pattern
  • Improves Strength and Flexibility
  • Improves Balance/Reduces Risk of Falls
  • Improves Immune System
  • Improves Pain Threshold

Some simple suggestions for beginning an exercise program are:

  • Get your physicians approval
  • Consult with a physical therapist to set up a program for your needs
    • Buy good running sneakers – not walking shoes
    • Plan to exercise 3-5 times per week for 30-35 minutes
    • Walk for aerobic fitness
    • Begin 5-10 minutes and add 1-2 minutes each session
    • Walk in a mall if it is too hot or too cold
    • Use light dumbbells, sandbag weights and resisted bands
    • Begin with 5-10 repetitions and add 1-2 reps each session
    • Alternate weight training days with walking days

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!