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A Physical Therapists Role In Mental Health

Exercise and mental healthAs a physical therapist, I see patients for a variety of reasons. Most people link physical therapy to injuries, but injury rehab is only part of a physical therapists role in healthcare. Things like injury prevention, sports performance, exercise programing, and fitness consulting are a big part of my personal practice. You see, a physical therapists full role is to maximize an individual’s quality of life. For some people, stress from work, family issues, health concerns and other things may be negatively impacting their quality of life. A team approach that includes mental health professionals, physical therapists, physicians, and most importantly the patient and their family, can be instrumental in helping a person overcome mental health concerns. Unfortunately, the role of exercise is commonly misunderstood and underutilized in improving an individual’s mental health. So what exactly is a physical therapists role on the team?

Physical Therapists Role in Improving Mental Health

1. Determine a baseline health and fitness level for new exerciser
2. Determine what exercises are appropriate for an individual based off specific testing
3. Act as a fitness consultant and guide to progressing a home exercise program
4. Working with a patients current fitness professional, like a personal trainer, to address mobility deficits that are impairing an individual’s ability to exercise
5. Certain pharmaceuticals impacts the body’s typical response to exercise. A physical therapist understands these effects and can create a safe program for an individual based on this knowledge
So now that we know what role a physical therapist plays, how exactly does physical activity and exercise benefit a patient dealing with mental health concerns?

10 Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

1. Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
2. Improve quality of sleep
3. Improve self esteem
4. Improve social interaction
5. Creates a sense of achievement
6. Improves cognitive function
7. Improvement in mood
8. Reduces fatigue and improves mental alertness
9. Reduces dependence on pharmaceuticals
10. Exercising is a healthy activity that all family members can participate in together Why Does Exercise Improve These Aspects of Mental Health?

As you can see above, exercise can improve a variety of aspects related to mental health, but how exactly does a physical therapist led exercise program impact mental health

Physiological Effects of Exercise on Mental Health

1. Improves Blood Flow
2. Increases Arousal
3. Increases Serotonin Levels
4. Increases Brain Development to Improve Memory
5. Increases Release of Endorphins

How to Get Started

Whether you’ve never exercised regularly before or are an experienced athlete, an appropriate exercise plan is an important step to maximize your results. Prior to having an exercise program created you should participate in a full health and fitness screening. A physical therapist can also perform a mobility screen to determine what exercises may be appropriate for you, and which exercises you should avoid due to mobility restrictions. This mobility screen can help decrease your risk of having an injury. After that, an individual program should be created to meet your goals, fitness level and medical history. A physical therapist or a qualified personal trainer can help with your exercise program design. One problem that I’ve encountered with “new exercisers” is that they start a program they found online, or a friend/family member told them about. If this program doesn’t mesh well with your personal interests, goals and fitness level, then exercise may feel more like a chore than an enjoyable activity. Even worse, this program may lead to an injury, which could turn an individual off from regular exercise altogether. In order to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise, an individual must be willing to exercise regularly. So if you are looking to improve your mental health, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your quality of life, consider adding a dumbbell or pair of running shoes to your daily routine.

About the author: Dr. Kevin Prue PT, DPT, CSCS is a graduate of Duke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. He is the president and director of Prue Physical Therapy & Sports Performance (www.pruept.com) located in Cary NC. He specializes sports and orthopedic physical therapy, sports performance training and injury prevention for youth and recreational athletes.

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