People usually see a physical therapist for pain or loss of function. Think of the person who has back pain, the injured athlete or the person who's had a stroke. They all want to improve how they move and complete tasks. Now, there is good reason to wonder if physical therapists will start seeing more people who are not in pain or having difficulty moving.
Why would these people come to a PT? To improve their overall health and wellness.
There is strong evidence to suggest that movement is a valuable predictor of future health and resilience against disease.
Physical therapists are movement specialists, so taking advantage of their expertise makes sense if your goal is to become healthier and live longer. Here are some examples of the power of movement when it comes to predicting future health:
Gait Speed is how fast you walk. Studies have shown that if your typical walking speed is over 1 m/s or 3.3 ft/s, you're probably able to complete typical daily activities without help. You're also less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to have adverse events like falls (such as hip fractures).
If you'd like to test yourself, measure out a straight, flat course to walk that is between 10' and 30' long. You'll also need 5' or so at the beginning and the end for acceleration and deceleration, so you can get an accurate measurement. Walk the course at your typical speed and divide the length of the course by how long it took you to walk it (distance/time). That's your gait speed.
Get On and Off the Floor
A series of studies suggests that if you can go from standing to sitting on the floor and back to standing without using your hands, you're a lot less likely to die than someone who can't. It's called the sitting-rising test. Here's how it works:
You start standing, and without support you sit down on the floor, then stand back up. You start with a score of 10. Every time you put a hand, knee, forearm or the side of your leg on the floor you lose 1 point. Putting a hand on your knee or thigh to help also costs 1 point. A loss of balance costs 1/2 a point. In a sample of over 2,000 people, they found that scoring less than 8 points made you twice as likely to die in the next 6 years when compared to people who scored higher. Score 3 or less and you're 5 times more likely to die in the same period. Overall, each point in the test is worth a 21% decrease in mortality from all causes.
These tests aren’t specific to any one thing.
The risk of hospitalization in the gait speed studies was hospitalization for any reason. Death in the sitting-rising studies was death from anything. So, while we know that exercise and healthy lifestyle reduce your risk of specific diseases like heart disease or diabetes, it appears that being able to move may provide much more wide-ranging protection than we previously thought.