2021 Fitness Insights for Physical Therapists

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As we get ready to start winding down 2021 and start prepping for what we all hope will be a much better 2022, it’s time to take stock of the last couple years, how Covid has transformed the fitness industry (and health and fitness in general!) and what we can look forward to in the future.

If 2020 was the year everything shut down and we all took our workouts online, 2021 was the year we peaked our heads out of our holes and took a few tentative steps at getting back to normal. As much as we could appreciate the many online opportunities for fitness that sprang up in the wake the shutdown, none of this was ideal and most of us came out a little worse for wear — heavier on the scale, wider around the waist, and breathing a little harder when we climbed the stairs.

And so in the coming holiday months, we’ll be taking extra precautions when it comes to the traditional festivities. We’ll be squeezing in a few more walks, eating a few fewer cookies, and trying to cut back on the champagne and eggnog.

The news for physical therapists isn’t all bad. We continue to progress in our knowledge of what it takes to become healthy, to stay healthy, and to recover our health. While what we’ve learned lately is sometimes contradictory, that’s the nature of science. But the more we know, the better we can do our jobs. With that in mind, here are a few recent physical therapy insights from the closing months of 2021.

Physical Therapy Insights

Genes play key role in exercise outcomes

It might sound like obvious common sense that our genes play a big role in what we can do with our bodies. Some people run farther or faster, some can jump higher, some recover more quickly. It’s just natural variation that doesn’t make one person better than another. But a new study has put a number to just how much our genes can effect exercise outcomes, and that number is 72%. That’s a lot. The study conducted by the Cambridge Centre for Sport & Exercise Sciences looked at data from over 3,000 adults with no previous exercise training, monitoring their muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, and anaerobic power. The study identified thirteen genes responsible for the wide variation in fitness improvement among people who did the same exercises. The authors hypothesized that future testing might allow for tailored exercises optimized for each individual to best take advantage of their genetic makeup.

Americans need at least five hours per week of physical activity to prevent some cancers

This new report confirmed that more than 46,000 annual cancer cases could be prevented in the U.S. if Americans met the currently recommended guidelines of getting five hours per week of moderate intensity exercise.

Treat anxiety with exercise

Exercise, whether moderate or strenuous, can alleviate even chronic anxiety symptoms, according to one new study conducted by researchers at the University of Gothenburg.

Healthy changes in diet and activity improve treatment-resistant high blood pressure

Weight loss in conjunction with a healthy eating plan and improved aerobic fitness significantly reduces blood pressure and improves heart health in people already reliant on three or more antihypertensive medications, according to research published by the American Heart Association.

Messages about illness and death are significant motivators for exercise

Scare tactics work when it comes to exercise motivation, according to the results of a study from the University of Waterloo. Contrary to expectations of researchers, study participants were more motivated to work out after receiving motivational messages warning of death or illness from inactivity compared with other motivational messages.

Overeating is not the primary cause of obesity

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition argues against the standard energy balance model of weight gain, instead arguing that weight gain is caused by metabolic changes related to what we eat, not how much of it we eat.

Strength training can burn fat too

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have published a review and analysis showing that we can lose approximately 1.4 percent of body fat through strength training alone, similar to the percentage that could be lost through cardiovascular exercise. Strength training is easy with simple physical therapy products.

Fat loss is more important than muscle gain for heart health

In a study that does not take into account any fat loss related to muscle gain (see previous), researchers have shown that the long-term health of young people is better served by shedding excess weight than by putting on muscle. They argue, though, that exercise and strength remain important factors in overall health.

Focus on fitness over weight loss for obesity-related health conditions

In research somewhat counter to the previous study, scientists argue that improving fitness and physical activity is more important than focusing on weight loss when it comes to treating obesity-related conditions.