Small Physical Therapy Goals Have Big Results for Seniors, A.G. Rhodes

Occupational and physical therapists make a significant difference in the lives of our patients. They know that physical therapy is critical to maintaining and even improving their function. Physical activity is key to helping our bodies to thrive at any age. Even small amounts of targeted physical work can have significant payoffs.

Physical therapy with a functional focus goes beyond selling the fact that physical exercise is important. When a specific issue must be addressed, e.g. helping a patient heal after surgery or reducing chronic pain that impacts the patient’s present and future activity, our physical therapists go the extra mile in senior therapy and rehabilitation. Sometimes, that starts with achieving small physical goals.

Helping Patients Achieve Functional Goals

Let’s say a patient needs to climb a small number of stairs each day. He finds it difficult to walk up a small set of four steps after surgery. To begin, the physical therapist works on the functional components of the task.

Climbing even a small set of stairs requires both physical and cardiac strength. Once our physical therapy team helps the patient strengthen their legs, hips, and core, the patient learns how important the ability to climb those stairs really is:

  • In a research study published in the journal Sports (2019), climbing stairs requires 8 to 10 times the energy needed to sit at rest. In comparison to walking or running, climbing the stairs also burns calories.
  • Performing the motions needed to climb stairs requires the abdominal muscles (and stimulates the organs found in the abdomen), activates the spinal column, and requires the knees, legs, and ankles.
  • Once the patient is able to climb stairs every day, the benefits of stair-climbing can help our patient to achieve other goals, including weight loss, improved heart health, increased muscular strength, better endurance, and make them feel better in other ways.

Climbing Stairs Each Day

Weight loss

Climbing stairs for 20-30 minutes is a lot to imagine at the start of physical therapy. When all of the motions needed to climb the stairs come together, some patients enjoy stair climbing’s aerobic benefits:

It’s possible to lose 0.17 calories for each stair climbed and 0.05 calories for each step-down. At that rate, 30 minutes a day can and does aid weight loss.

For some patients, climbing a short flight of stairs help them to walk more, too.

Improved heart health

A study in Preventive Medicine (2000) shows that stair climbing increases good HDL (high-density lipoproteins) in circulating blood cholesterol. It can also benefit circulation in the patient’s body. The study states that climbing the stairs improves heart health and helps patients keep some forms of cardiorespiratory disease at bay.

Increased muscle strength

Climbing even a short stairwell is a vertical form of exercise in which the patient pushes down to lift the entire body up one stair at a time. After the patient is able to walk up some stairs, they usually like to know that the exercise increases leg, hip, and thigh muscle strength.

Better endurance

“The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports” (2014) reports that climbing stairs improves cardiorespiratory and neuromuscular performance. It improves the patient’s balance and helps them to lower the risk of falling. The better physical condition means they can do more daily activities as well.

Improved mental outlook

Most exercises help the body to release endorphins and that helps patients feel good. Some exercise also helps patients to sleep better. Combined with better endurance, strength, and weight loss, people report improved confidence and self-esteem. They report feeling happier, too.