Rehab and Community Physical Activity - When and Where Shall the Two Meet?
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
After returning from an inspiring week in Lund, Goteborg, and Copenhagen, I'm more convinced than ever that this is the right time to make a seismic policy shift in addressing the need for some type of sustainable health/wellness program after rehab. I've been pontificating for many years that the best time for getting a person's attention is right out of rehab. My presentation at the Swedish Medical Society meeting in Goteborg on the transition from rehab to community physical activity seemed to resonate with the audience, which was composed primarily of physicians in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
So, what is this seismic policy shift all about? It's about finding effective strategies that will assist an individual after a traumatic injury or newly diagnosed disability into transitioning into a socially engaging, health-enhancing lifestyle composed of: (a) getting out of the home for a couple of hours a day; (b) connecting with other people in the community; and (c) finding an enjoyable form of physical activity. All three of these can be accomplished in a local health club or fitness facility.
Physical activity can take on many shapes and sizes. For younger individuals, this may involve recreational or competitive sport surrounded by other players who enjoy the aspect of competition. For middle-aged and older adults with newly diagnosed disabilities, the idea is to get them linked to a community-based physical activity program that will allow them to continue their recovery on their way to a more physically active lifestyle. On the recovery side, examples would include a knowledgeable fitness professional who can work with a rehab professional in establishing a body weight supported treadmill training protocol for stroke survivors; sitting yoga for people with multiple sclerosis; a round of golf in an accessible cart for someone newly diagnosed with Parkinson's; or a warm-water exercise class for an older person with spinal cord injury.
Whatever the condition, health impairment, or disability, it's critical that on the last day of inpatient or outpatient rehab or after a doctor's visit, the patient has a carefully designed transition plan that promotes community physical activity. The plan should be developed by the individual with the disability and his or her rehab professional, and hand-delivered to an exercise instructor working at a facility that is in close proximity (if at all possible) to the person's home. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) can be used for some phone-based assistance (firstname.lastname@example.org). Without that take-home plan, the effects of rehab will be washed out shortly after the person returns home. By establishing a physical activity program after rehab, the person can continue his or her recovery in the community on the way to improving health, fitness and quality of life.