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American Physical Therapy Association
United States

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Our mission at APTA is to improve the health and quality of life of individuals in society by advancing the physical therapy profession. Our blog posts will provide an opportunity for APTA member experts and staff to share their unique experiences in pursuing this goal relative to physical activity, including communicating to various audiences the message of the value of physical activity and assisting individuals who need an improved understanding or increased capacity to be physically active. APTA looks forward to partnering with other organizations via this blog to share its breadth of expertise and communicate with other experts or individuals interested in this important subject.

Guest Bloggers:

Lisa A. Chase, PhD, PT

Megann Schooley, PT, DPT, MTC, CSCS

Cindy Miles, PT, MEd, PCS

Recent Posts by APTA

Physical Therapists Working to Meet the Fitness Needs of People with Intellectual Disability

by APTA May 6, 2013

Blog post written by: Donna B Bainbridge, PT, EdD, ATC; James Michael Gleason, PT, MS; and Victoria S T Tilley, PT, GCS

People with intellectual disability are at risk for poorer health and earlier death than the general population. People with intellectual disability may have more difficulty understanding advertisements and media messages intended to enhance or promote health, and they often depend on family or caregivers to provide support and guidance in daily decision making. Many people with intellectual disability are underemployed or unemployed with limited financial resources, especially discretionary income to allow them to participate in recreational and physical activity programs. Many coaches and volunteers who work with sports teams in local communities may be reluctant to include children, youth, and adults with disabilities, or do not have the knowledge to teach sports-related skills to those who have difficulty learning or need extra time to learn or practice basic skills. As a result, people with intellectual disability may not have access to the many programs available to the nondisabled population that are extremely important to staying active and avoiding many chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, overweight, and other health problems. 

In response to these needs, physical therapists (PTs) have become important contributors to the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening and other healthy lifestyle initiatives. In 2000, a fitness screening protocol called FUNFitness was developed by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in collaboration with Special Olympics to evaluate flexibility, strength, balance, and aerobic fitness in Special Olympics athletes. FUNfitness volunteers have screened over 160,000 Special Olympics athletes, collected data on physical performance, and provided individual instruction and referrals to physicians and to physical therapists as needed as a result of these screenings. The screening tests reveal that most Special Olympics athletes with intellectual disabilities have limitations in flexibility and poor balance skills. Much also needs to be done to improve their athletic skills, promote better daily function and health, prevent falls, and enlist more health care providers to provide needed services. Special Olympics has trained thousands of PTs and PT students to conduct the screenings and provide meaningful information and advice to athletes. FUNfitness has developed close collaborative ties with APTA in the United States and has developed a network through the World Confederation for Physical Therapy to expand these discussions and efforts globally .

These screening efforts have become a routine part of Special Olympics activities in many states and in countries around the globe. In addition, FUNfitness has developed a range of fitness materials and protocols for Special Olympics coaches to use for promotion of fitness with their athletes. Currently, FUNfitness and Special Olympics programs are developing and pilot testing a variety of community-based year-round fitness programs for athletes, such as the Special Olympics Get Fit for Sport designed for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA+. These resources will be posted on the Get Fit for Sport Special Olympics webpage so that Special Olympics programs, families, and physical therapists can use them to encourage individual and group fitness activities.

People with intellectual disabilities need access to knowledgeable health and fitness resources and to practitioners who can provide information and programs that are barrier free, can be easily understood, and encourage participation in physical activity and fitness. PTs are ideally suited to help make this happen. We challenge PTs to become more involved in their communities and to include people with intellectual disability who are frequently underserved by health promotion efforts. 

What is your experience with working with people with intellectual disability? How can we promote improved fitness and physical activity for this population?

Promoting Exercise for Improved Balance and Falls Prevention

by APTA September 22, 2012

National Falls Prevention Awareness Day is observed on the first day of fall (today!) to increase public awareness and promote activities to reduce falls among older adults. This year's awareness day is themed "Standing Together to Prevent Falls," and 46 states are planning to participate. National Falls Prevention Awareness Day is just one example of the tremendous work over 70 professional organizations, including APTA, federal agencies, and 42 state falls prevention coalitions have done through the Falls Free Initiative.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of older adults fall at least once each year. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Muscle weakness, balance impairments, and walking difficulties are among the leading risk factors for falls among older adults. Fortunately, various types of exercise can lessen the impact of these factors and reduce one's chances of falling.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently supported exercise or physical therapy and Vitamin D supplementation to prevent falls among community-dwelling older adults. These recommendations are also supportive of those proposed by the American Geriatrics Society, which recommends balance, walking, and strength training to reduce falls risk.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) also recommend balance training at least 3 times per week for older adults at increased risk for falls. This is in addition to the general recommendation for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigourous-intensity aerobic exercise per week and 2 days per week of strength training.

balance training

Balance training should be challenging and progressive in difficulty (such as reducing base of support and/or increasing movement in multiple directions). Group or individual programs that combine balance and strengthening exercises, such as tai chi, have been proven to effectively reduce falls among older adults.

Evidence-based balance exercise programs can be offered in any number of settings. It is also acknowledged that a variety of other healthy aging programs can be strategically offered within facilities to promote and sustain behavior change, address intermediate risk factors or barriers, or serve as entry programs for referral to more targeted fall prevention programming. Many of these programs are already found within communities supported by the US Administration on Community Living. Research supports a minimum of 50 hours of exercise, over a minumum of 12 weeks (6 months is best) to affect balance and falls, so physical therapists need to partner with agencies that can help to augment or supplement our plans of care.

There are many examples of successful partnerships among community agencies and exercise professionals to offer evidence-based and best-practice programs that deliver the recommended type and amount of exercise. Community agencies are also in a strategic position to offer assistance with marketing, recruiting participants, and providing activity space. Potential partners include senior centers, older adult housing, churches, fitness and wellness centers, and nutrition sites.

APTA provides website resources on falls prevention to its members and promotes the Falls Prevention Awareness Day through its e-newsletter. Other awareness and planning resources are also available from the National Coalition on Aging Center for Healthy Aging. How can your organization and members join together to help your communities' older adults improve balance and reduce falls?

Guest bloggers: Lori Schrodt, PT, PhD, Chair of the Health Promotion & Wellness Special Interest Group, Section of Geriatrics, American Physical Therapy Association; (Bonita) Lynn Beattie, PT, MP, MHA, Vice President, Injury Prevention Lead, Falls Free Initiative; Center for Healthy Aging; National Council on Aging; and physical therapist students from Western Carolina University, Andrea Cahoon, Sherrie Flory, Anna King, Caitlin Laemmle, Kenneth Richards, and Monica Vargas.

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Events | Older adults

How Professional Provider Groups May Share the Physical Activity Message with Members and the Public

by APTA September 7, 2011

Making an Impact through Information  

Consumer tools developed for members to share with their patients are an effective way to promote the benefits of physical activity. Providing members with downloadable and customizable consumer handouts on topics related to physical activity is an efficient, cost-effective way to help members get the word out in their communities. Handouts that we have developed include topics like physical activity tips for families, foot health for runners, physical therapy and diabetes, and how to avoid a variety of sports-related injuries.

Social Media

Because many people rely on the Internet for their health information and millions are on Facebook and Twitter, it can be a good idea to use social media as part of your outreach. Social media can take a variety of forms such as videos, tweets, and Facebook posts. We have developed a library of YouTube videos related to physical activity-related topics, such as ACL Injury Prevention; Activities for Kids of All Abilities; Bike Fit; Exercise Techniques (nine series); Exercise for People with Disabilities; Fitness as You Age; Good Health Tips for Runners: Maintaining Physical Activity Across the Lifespan; and Running Tips and Walking Tips. These and our other social media properties are housed on our consumer website,

Video: "Activities for Kids of All Abilities" (Click to play)

Video: "Strength Training Tips from a Physical Therapist" (Click to play)

Tweeting several times a day on topics relevant to consumers can help you develop a following on a Twitter. Hosting tweet chats where members engage with followers on particular topics can also be an effective way to reach consumers. Our tweet chat topics have included toys for children with disabilities, obesity prevention and management, and foot health for runners. It is also possible to videotape live discussions and stream them via the Internet. This year we hosted our first "livestream" event, "Fit for Life," featuring baby boomer physical therapists discussing how they incorporate physical activity into their lives and the lives of their families.

News releases continue to be an effective way to reach the media. Releases we have issued on the importance of physical activity include "New Dietary Guidelines Highlight Importance of Physical Activity" and "Physical Therapists Help You Get Fit - Safely - in 2011."

Making an Impact through Awareness

An organization's national awareness week or month can be used to deliver a targeted, cohesive message in a way that may not otherwise be possible. Tools may be developed that encourage interaction between members and their patients, or clients and traditional PR strategies may be supplemented by social media during this coordinated effort. In 2010, National Physical Therapy Month was dedicated to the importance of physical activity in preventing obesity, and its consequences. We supported our efforts with social media and developed a downloadable board game for members to use with their patients.

Collaborating with related organizations is another way to extend your impact. For instance, APTA collaborated with the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition on a brochure entitled, Be Active, Be Fit: Beginning and Maintaining a Physical Activity Program

What resources and programs have you developed to help your members promote physical activity in their communities?

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