Physical Therapists Urge Families to Prevent and Fight Obesity with Physical Activity

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In Recognition of National Physical Therapy Month, Physical Therapists Offer “Smart Moves for Families” to Prevent and Combat Obesity and its Consequences

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Because of the health risks associated with obesity, physical therapists collaborate with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dietitians, and other health professionals in managing a patient’s care

Making the commitment to be physically active is one of the best ways children and adults can prevent or combat obesity and its consequences, say physical therapists from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Physical therapist and APTA member Teresa Schuemann, PT, SCS, of Colorado Physical Therapy Specialists in Ft. Collins, CO, and a sports certified specialist, says families should be at the forefront of establishing good physical activity habits. “It’s much easier for children to adopt healthy lifestyles if they see their parents making physical activity a priority,” she says. “Parents should emphasize a healthy lifestyle instead of focusing solely on weight and support the family’s healthy choices rather than pounds lost,” she added. “Children and adults who participate in sustained daily physical activity and follow a balanced diet enjoy improved cardiovascular fitness, greater bone mass and strength, and are better able to manage their weight -- all of which help prevent the onset of obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Children with physical disabilities have a strong desire to participate in physical activities and sports, yet opportunities and resources are often limited, explained physical therapist and APTA member Lisa Chiarello, PT, PhD, PCS, associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. “Children with physical disabilities are at risk of not participating in any form of physical activity,” she said. “Motor function and adaptive behavior, family, activity, environmental modifications, activity accommodations, and assistive technology all play key roles in supporting physical activity in children with physical disabilities.” Physical therapists help families balance the many priorities they have for their children and help them find ways to incorporate physical activity into children’s play, leisure time, and daily family routines.

Physical therapists support the Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which describe the types and amounts of physical activity that offer substantial health benefits to Americans.

The following “Smart Moves for Families” are available from APTA.

A Personal Approach to Managing Obesity

For obese children and adults, promoting movement, reducing pain when it is present, maintaining or restoring function, and preventing disability are the goals of a physical therapist-designed exercise program. According to physical therapist and APTA member Susan Deusinger, PT, PhD, FAPTA, professor of physical therapy and neurology and director of the Program in Physical Therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo, preventing or combating obesity is a complex and long-term challenge. “Physical therapists address how obesity affects the way the body moves and functions. This is accomplished through individual and group exercises to restore flexibility, increase strength and cardiovascular endurance, reduce pain, and address postural stability and balance. These help the individual to better perform activities of daily living while decreasing disability associated with long term obesity.”

Physical therapists also incorporate behavior modification into weight loss programs. For instance, treatment may include identifying causes of unhealthy behaviors, learning how an individual’s readiness to begin or continue positive behaviors impacts progress, and recognizing any barriers that may compromise healthy habits. Physical therapists help the individual set goals and monitor his or her behavior. Frequent contact, feedback, and continuous motivation and support are all components of behavioral programs that physical therapists provide in individual and group settings.

Combating Type 2 Diabetes
Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood that is associated with numerous health complications. Improving capacity for physical activity and increasing muscular strength are crucial to preventing loss of physical function and independence. An individualized program developed by a physical therapist can help reduce the need for medications, lower risk of heart disease and stroke, and help manage glucose levels. For people with complications associated with diabetes, physical therapists can help restore quality of life through the use of special tests to check foot sensation; decrease cramping pain during walking; evaluate and care for skin ulcers and sores that are slow to heal; improve walking ability by adapting shoes or orthotics; instruct on how to protect the feet if they have lost sensation, and recommend shoe wear or assistive devices. “Because of the health risks associated with obesity, physical therapists collaborate with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dietitians, and other health professionals in managing a patient’s care,” said Deusinger.

Physical therapists often encounter children and adults who have experienced difficulties making physical activity a part of daily life. The guidance and encouragement of a physical therapist who understands individual needs, priorities, and challenges and who is able to closely support and monitor progress can be the determining factor in helping an individual to achieve his or her goals.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) represents more than 78,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students of physical therapy nationwide. Learn more about conditions physical therapists can treat and find a physical therapist in your area at Consumers are encouraged to follow us on Twitter (@moveforwardpt) and Facebook.


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