If you’ve been living in the northern hemisphere, winter just can’t end soon enough! The leaves of summer seem like a dream we can’t reach — but spring is slowly assembling for some warmth. Traveling for work in the allied health field means you have the ability to follow your favorite season. Still, most patients aren’t as fortunate. For physical therapy professionals working in their ideal locations, providing physical therapy outdoors is worth considering!
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Maybe you enjoy Florida in the winter and summer in Alaska — what a life! If you enjoy getting ample amounts of fresh air, it’s possible that your patients do too. Although providing physical therapy outdoors doesn’t work in every situation, there are plenty of reasons to try. Research shows that enjoying fresh forest air is one way we can all grow healthier. Sure, literally hugging a tree can only do so much, but all jokes aside there are some objective benefits such as:
- Immune system boosts
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced stressed
- Improved moods
- Increased ability to focus (even those with ADHD)
- Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
- Increased energy levels
- Improved sleep
Perhaps you’ve heard about “forest bathing” recently. More than just a catchy buzzword, many people are acknowledging the health benefits of spending time in natural settings — particularly those ripe with trees and other plants. Known as “shinrin-yoku,” the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture actively encourages citizens to improve their wellbeing through wandering around the forest! Although these claims of increased wellbeing seem too good to be true, there’s some interesting science at work here. In forests specifically, plants and trees actually produce phytoncides, or airborne chemicals used to repel insects. When humans breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing their white blood cell counts. This means a boost in our natural abilities to fight tumor and virus-infected cells. Additionally, studies showed that exercising in forests can lower blood pressure, improve one’s mood, and reduce stress — all reasons for providing physical therapy outdoors!
Again, some patients need the uniformity and exactness that only clinics can provide. If someone isn’t inclined to going outdoors for treatment, don’t force it. However, it’s definitely a refreshing option to consider for the right candidates! Consider providing physical therapy outdoors in these ways:
- Go for walks in flat, natural areas stopping to perform balance or strength training activities.
- Find a nice grassy area or park and do stretches or resistance band exercises in the sun.
- Try range of motion exercises in places with soft terrain like the beach for low impact.
- Find outdoor paths with railings for increased balance and safety.
When providing physical therapy outdoors, ensure that patients take the proper precautions. Wearing good shoes, active-wear clothing, and sunblock or bug repellent make each session much better. Additionally, incorporating elements of deep breathing and calming exercises allow people to get more than just physical therapy — nature often provides experiences of spirituality! For someone recovering from a serious illness or injury, having a sense of inner peace can accelerate their healing process. Staying indoors for too long often lends itself to rumination, which can lead to depression and other difficulties.
Considering that not everyone has access to natural areas like mountains, lakes and beaches get creative with providing physical therapy outdoors. Even if you’re located in a modern, urbanized city, making the extra effort to get out to a park can make a huge difference.
Providing physical therapy outdoors is something that may not work for everyone, however, natural settings can help maximize treatments. What are some ways you’ve taken your physical therapy practice outdoors? Let us know in the comments below!