Change Makers


Work toward creating a healthier society by promoting wellness.

By Jean Darling, PT, LAT

As changes take place in the health care system, the science of medicine and the art of healing continue to strike a balance. Our profession needs to participate by taking on the role of wellness professionals. We must be innovative in our approach to wellness as we position ourselves for the future of health care. We have all the tools necessary to succeed, and we need to practice them by being the conductors of healthy lifestyles in our communities.

At the World Economic Forum this year, the focus was on a new and rather upbeat topic: the need for countries to invest in health to achieve long-term economic growth. “The time is right to elevate the conversation on health,” said Robert Greenhill, the managing director and chief business office of the forum. “This year, there is a sense that the global economy is out of intensive care and embarking on rehabilitation. As we ask how, metaphorically, to improve the economy’s health, literally improving the population’s health is a good place to start.”

What an inspiring statement and a good choice of words to explain that our society is embarking on rehabilitation—an excellent segue for our profession to take the ball and run with it. It comes across as a challenge for physical therapists to capitalize on this opportunity. We have heard a great deal about incorporating wellness into our profession and our vision for the last few years, but I am uncertain that we know how to put this into practice. We have the knowledge regarding exercise and fitness, but are we incorporating lifetime wellness into our discharge plans and daily practice of physical therapy?

Everyone comprehends the benefit of transitional programs upon discharge from skilled physical therapy: personal training, performance enhancement, group fitness, and small group training. Whether or not we choose to personally engage in these entities, we possess the knowledge to assist our patients and direct them to utilize or locate these programs as necessary. I view our role as therapists to ascertain whether or not our patients need the additional expertise, guidance, or support to follow through with their home program upon discharge.

In addition to the referrals to these transitional programs are we also teaching our patients the basics for a lifetime of wellness and exercise? Beyond the diagnoses for which they sought our care, are we educating them in healthy behaviors and fabricating plans for this in our discharge goals?

We are in the perfect position to serve as role models to discuss weight loss principles with our patient. If our patient leads a sedentary lifestyle, there is a huge opportunity to share the research on inactivity and encourage them to step away from the chair. We can present the evidence between sitting time and premature mortality rates. We all realize some individuals may be adverse to exercise; however, educating them on the benefit of how simply standing an extra 1 to 2 hours per day can burn enough calories to lose between 5 to 10 pounds over a year’s time.1

Prevention is key in overall health. Knowing this, do we appropriately discuss osteoporosis indicators for our patient population that falls into this strata? Do we report the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommendations for exercise as a way to keep our patients exercising upon discharge? Lastly, do we as a profession take responsibility for societal or global health? I have taken it upon myself to frequently write letters to medical doctors to encourage referral of their patients for exercise, walking programs, or strength training when they diagnosis them with chronic diseases, such as Coronary Artery Disease, Diabetes, Osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Osteoporosis. Many times a medical doctor will tell their patient to become more active but that individual may not comprehend how to take the next step. Our profession can assist with this task. We can also market to the consumer for direct access to our services by informing the public of our skill set.

As wellness professionals, we have all the tools and education to lead our consumers to a healthier lifestyle. However, we need to ask ourselves how and when we are willing to use them. Each of us can play a major role in educating our patients on behavioral changes to promote wellness. Preventing disease, as opposed to merely treating it, must become an even greater priority. In this manner, we can all support our American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Brand-Move Forward; Physical Therapy Brings Motion to Life! 

Jean Darling, PT, LAT, is an Impact editorial board member and vice president of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine. She can be reached at

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