Physical therapy isn’t just for rehab — it’s a tool for active aging, too

Physical therapy isn’t just for rehabilitation after trauma to the body — Carson City and Gardnerville experts say it can be a tool for athletes to train harder, for older clients to regain balance, and for medical patients to build strength.

“You don’t have to necessarily be in pain to go to physical therapy,” said Nina Vogel, Carson Tahoe Health’s director of physical therapy. “You can go to get into a workout program, get recommendations to run faster, to analyze walking patterns, or to work through neurological or orthopedic issues.”

For those reasons and many more, physical therapy is integral in helping people take charge of their older years by aging in an active manner by continuing their focus on regular body movement.

Monique Haviland, founder of BodyWise Physical Therapy, which has locations in Carson City, Minden and Smith Valley, agrees, adding no matter your age, physical therapy can provide the balance one needs as life goes on.

“I see a lot of the elderly at Smith Valley who are active seniors as old as 91 and they’re still driving,” Haviland said. “They’re gardening, farming, caring for livestock, and they need to have a balance of indoor and outdoor activities to maintain where they live.”

Spend time with PT inside and outside

Speaking of balance, Haviland said it’s important for older adults to utilize obstacles both inside and outside to help train balance on uneven surfaces.

“A lot of clinics use machines, which is one-sided exercise, and as we age, balance is the first thing to go,” she said. “We simulate situations in the clinic and outside with an obstacle course, uneven foam surfaces … (and) anything they might have to do in their home or daily life.”

Haviland said people feeling self-conscious about using a cane for stability can use her trick — a hiking pole.

“Hiking poles are lightweight, they can collapse down and you can leave them in the car … the pole gives (you) more quality of life so you have more stability and you look like a hiker, rather than like you have fall risk prevention,” she said.

Vogel, who’s also a Parkinson’s-certified specialist, suggests people looking to challenge themselves more physically should gradually increase the difficulty level of their hike or bike workouts, paying close attention to what their bodies are saying.

“Start out on your first day with a 20-minute hike and see how you feel after maybe three times. Soreness is good, and if you’re not really ‘dying,’ then you could maybe add 10 or 20 minutes or do one or two miles at a time,” Vogel said. “Check your energy level — are you able to make it farther or do feel like you need to conserve energy to make it back? Are you out of breath? These are all good targets to look for.”

Other benefits of getting outdoors

In addition to exercise, vitamin D deficiency in adults is another reason to get outside.

“More than half of adults are deficient in this area, and vitamin D deficiency can contribute to mental diseases as well as physical changes,” Vogel added. “Vitamin D is really important for mental health, fighting depression, cancer and inflammation. Sunshine helps reset your Circadian Rhythm and lower cortisol levels, allowing you to get more restful sleep.”

Another benefit of hiking and biking in your therapy routine is a sense of community.

“I am part of the suicide prevention network, and a lot of elderly people get melancholy and sad because it is tough to get older and feel lonesome sometimes,” Haviland said. “Becoming part of an organization, whether it’s a hiking group or a feel-good group, anything to be part of a physically active group, will take the mind off of chronic pain, which limits people to do things.”

Vogel also said physical connections with people — as opposed to social media connections — have shown through research to change a person’s health status.

For Vogel and Haviland, their philosophy behind physical therapy for actively aging adults is we get to choose how we live — and therefore, we should choose how we die.

Haviland said this means adults should take charge of their lives — like the European culture does — and you’ll be more active and healthier for it.


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