The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has done something terrifically cool. Sure we love it when they kick Congress in the pants now and again, or bring order to the occasional hysteria unleashed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But for October’s observance of National Physical Therapy Month (NPTM), the APTA has come up with a different kind of cool: Fit After 50, a public relations campaign that aims to keep people moving as they age.
Fit After 50 makes a good first step toward positioning PTs as health and wellness rock stars. And this is a good time to launch this program, because Baby Boomers have nearly all finally reached age 50 or older. They are set to become the largest consumers of joint replacement procedures, and with each passing year will become more likely to need rehab and physical therapy to keep them mobile. The genius of this program is that it is largely powered by social media. This is important for two reasons. First, the immediacy of the Internet means a fresh flow of information can be consumed in real time on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. It also means the program is interactive; a living, breathing campaign that allows followers and friends to ask questions and exchange information. Second, the Internet is a mark of cultural hipness. Being part of an online health phenomenon is much more likely to give people a reason to feel younger and more relevant than getting a form letter and ID card through the mail.
If APTA plays its cards right, it can eventually position PTs as the new must-have medical professional. People love to brag. They especially like to brag about their “people.” In this case “people” are highly educated professionals paid to maintain things of value. Your upwardly mobile neighbor may be the type to brag about his people, taking every opportunity in conversation to refer to “my stockbroker,” “my plastic surgeon,” or “my Volvo mechanic.” Physical therapists, however, always seem to be missing from these conversations. That’s too bad, because if you are at the point where you think it is more important to cultivate a stable and nurturing relationship between a car and the person who turns its brake pads than with someone who can keep you from turning into a hunchback by age 50, your value system is whacked.
The only thing missing from Fit After 50 is discussion about the expense of physical therapy services. Some of the program’s informational videos—done quite well—could give the impression PT services share a price point with personal training or group exercise class. Those videos may help many people become enthused about getting access to a PT, but they may be left in sticker shock when they realize an hour of therapy is considerably more expensive than an hour with a city-sponsored swim class.
Raising the nation’s consciousness about the need to keep moving is essential for maintaining a favorable quality of life, and should be the centerpiece of any aging in place strategy. Individuals who make no attempt to stay fit can find themselves on a predictable path. A sedentary lifestyle breeds obesity and sarcopenia, which can lead to loss of strength and mobility, and thereby increases the risk for falls and fractures. Next thing you know someone is on a walker or in a wheelchair, and quality of life becomes an uphill battle. Staying mobile is not the fountain of youth, but it is good for what ails you, at 50 and well beyond.