In the world of healthcare, most of the time we get focus on “getting someone better.” We make sure a patient can negotiate stairs, have enough range of motion to dress, return to work, has a decreased risk of falls, or sit without pain. Achieving those goals is important, but sometimes we become too tunnel visioned as healthcare professionals. Once someone completes their rehab, we essentially kick our patients out of the healthcare system. This is a good thing, but where do our patients go from here?
Many times our patients return to high demand situations or a sedentary lifestyle. Examples of these dysfunctional situations include a worker’s compensation patient that lifts boxes all day returning to full time work after a back injury or a soccer player returning to sport mid-season. When possible many rehab professionals like to oversee and help with these transitions. However, at some point a patient is going to have to live life without us. This life after leaving rehab is increasingly becoming a focus of clinicians, but like most other things we can do better.
One way we try to help patients for life after us is by incorporating home exercise programs (HEPs). An HEP of McKenzie exercise may give a patient a way to eliminate back pain throughout his or life. Performing balance exercises with family members may help continue to progress balance to reduce the risk of falls. Some clinicians may even schedule periodic follow ups to track progress and update programs as needed.
For some people this may be enough, but for the vast majority of patients there is much more unlocked potential in them. Can that back patient start doing more active pursuits rather than watching TV now that his back pain is under control? What happens to the patient who now can perform those balance exercises easily? Moving more, moving better, and challenging ourselves with new activities is better than becoming stagnant or sedentary. Improving fitness is healthier and better for wellness.
For those of us in the healthcare system, we need to address the transition to a fitness or wellness program. In many cases, this education and strategies discussed above are enough to get patients on the path to fitness. However, many patients still needs a little more. Are there underutilized strategies or alternative strategies that healthcare professionals can employ to address this need? Absolutely, but there is also a need for fitness professionals to help in this transition. I think better communication and collaboration with knowledgeable people in the fitness industry can dramatically help our patients.
Not everyone needs to enter through the healthcare portal. Walking a little slower than you did a couple years ago? Unable to swim as many laps as you used to in the pool? A person new to running can only go a mile without stopping? These people probably did not enter the world of healthcare. These people could use a fitness professional to get back or even go to new heights in activity. A faster natural gait speed could reduce the risk of fall. Improving activity tolerance could reduce the risk of a cardiopulmonary issue down the line or allow a person to quicker rebound from an unrelated injury or illness.
Everyone can benefit from improving fitness. Even the fastest man in history, Usain Bolt, could benefit from improved fitness. I am sure he would like to shave some time off his world records. Even the day he retires, I am sure training for one specific motion for years will result in a couple adaptations that may be limitations in other pursuits. I am sure his cardiovascular endurance would have room for growth. If Usain Bolt has some work to do, we all probably have some work to do. Looks like our work may be cut out for us.
Hope that helps,