“Movement is medicine” is not just a fun, catchy phrase. This sentiment is backed by science. Our very own University of Washington’s School of Medicine published research just last month in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health reiterating how important movement is for patient health outcomes and national health spending. The authors found that “widespread medical efforts to prescribe more physical activity or more regularly check in on patients’ activity levels could significantly reduce the nation’s health care costs.”
The study surveyed nearly 24,000 patients from early 2018 through the end of 2020. Those who were “sufficiently active” (only 37.4% of the participants) were far less likely than “insufficiently active” patients (28.5%) to be admitted to a hospital, visit their primary care provider, or go to the ER. It was also estimated that if the “insufficiently active” people were to meet the current national physical activity guidelines, then emergency room costs would decrease by more than $34,000 for every 1,000 patient-years (using the assumption that the average ER visit is more than $1,000). Moreover, the authors stated that the correlation between physical activity and healthcare visits was further amplified for older adult populations and those with comorbidities, or additional medical conditions.
Wait, the US has physical activity guidelines? Yes. They are in their 2nd edition published in fall 2018 and are established by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Through extensive research and insights from health professionals, the minimum recommendation for adults to be “sufficiently active” is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week and strength-specific training twice per week.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), aka the "gold standard" for evidence-based exercise recommendations since 1975, break it down even further. They explain moderate-intensity aerobics as “you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.” A good way to self-assess this level of intensity, they say, is “you’ll be able to talk, but not sing, the words to your favorite song.”
And no need to do all 150 minutes at once! Research consistently demonstrates that dispersing activities across 3 or more days per week is beneficial for your health and reduces risk for injury. Mix it up by trying a brisk walk, riding your bike on a flat path, or taking a salsa class!
As for strength-specific training, this generally means non-bodyweight exercise, though calisthenics like planks and push ups definitely count! At Empower Physio, we're big fans of lifting weights, but resistance bands and carrying heavy loads, like you might do with heavy housework, are great options as well.
Only 53% of American adults meet these guidelines however. And a mere ~23% meet the guidelines for both aerobic activity and strength training. While there are many factors that affect how active a person is (socioeconomic status, physical education and ability level, accessibility, in/exclusiveness, job flexibility to name a few), not only can healthcare professionals help, they should. Dr. Cindy Lin was the lead author of UW’s research and is a clinical associate professor of sports and spine medicine. She is quoted in The Seattle Times saying,
“Our health care systems are very great at treating people once they have a condition, but what we’re finding is even if people do small amounts of physical activity at home, like breaking up prolonged sitting time or going for a walk after dinner, that all adds up.”
She goes on to share that more and more current research finds that even just 5-10 minutes of movement has highly positive impacts on our health. Movement really IS medicine! So set a timer to use your stand-up desk, take a midday movement break, do calf raises while you brush your teeth, take the stairs instead of the elevator… The options are endless. And what better way to figure out a few “movement hacks” unique to YOUR life than to talk with your physical therapy team.
Your goal at physical therapy may be to just heal from a sprained ankle, but your team at Empower Physio knows this is only the beginning when it comes to living a truly healthy life. We don’t treat body parts, we care for humans.
Keep an eye out for future blogs, share with your
friends and colleagues, and give us a visit!
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