When you think of physical therapy you probably think of people sitting on a chair, doing exercises, using a crutch, or pushing a machine.
But what if you were able to take those skills and apply them to a physical task, such as the treatment of heart disease?
That’s what a new study at the University of Michigan has shown that the practice of physical therapies can help people with heart disease — as well as those with other chronic conditions.
The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that using a virtual therapist can improve physical function, help with pain management, and even reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases.
“In the real world, physical therapy can be a challenging activity,” said lead study author David M. Rader, PhD, professor of physical science and engineering at Michigan State University.
“We wanted to look at ways to reduce the challenge of the physical therapist and also help people who might not be able to participate in the practice if they didn’t have a physical therapist.”
Researchers used the new virtual therapy technique, called the Mass Definition Physics (MDFP) virtual therapy, on patients with moderate to severe chronic heart disease.
The MDFP is a virtual therapy session that simulates the patient’s daily life, and involves a physical activity and a breathing technique.
“The MDFPs were shown to improve patients’ physical function and reduce their risk of progression to the condition,” said M.D. Raser.MDFPs are a new technology developed by M.B. Shukla, MD, professor in the Department of Cardiology and a member of the Center for Cardiovascular Care at the Mayo Clinic.
“We are now in the early stages of a pilot study of the MDFPersons program, and we expect that it will become an expanded and more mainstream practice in the coming years,” said Shuklas co-lead author.
The researchers found that MDFs improved patient function, improved quality of life, lowered the risk for progression to a chronic condition, and decreased the severity of symptoms.
The researchers also found that people who completed the MDPs reported significantly lower risk for heart disease, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
“It’s important to note that this is not an intervention that will prevent the progression of heart and other chronic diseases,” said Rader.
“But it might help reduce the incidence and severity of those diseases.”
The MDPP is not the only method of physical activity to help with heart health.
The University of Illinois at Chicago recently conducted a study to determine whether exercise can reduce the number of patients diagnosed with coronary artery disease and heart failure.
“What the research shows is that it is not necessary to engage in all kinds of activity for heart health,” said Dr. Michael L. Reiss, PhD. “Instead, physical activity is associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, and it can even be associated with better quality of care and improved health.”
Other studies have shown that physical activity can improve cognitive function, mood, and sleep quality.
“If we can reduce our cognitive load, we can improve our quality of sleep and overall health,” Reiss said.
While physical activity helps reduce stress, there are many other ways to manage the symptoms of chronic heart failure, such to increase blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood cholesterol levels.