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‘Pre-hab’ now so you don’t have to rehab later

One of my favorite maxims from the sports world — and which really applies to all of life — is that “the most important ability is availability.”

A close second, though — especially as we age — should be mobility.

After all, the quality of the second half of your life is going to be largely determined by how easily — and painlessly — you can stay upright and ambulatory.

But maintaining your functional fitness — that is, the ability to perform everyday tasks such as getting in and out of automobiles, carrying grocery bags, negotiating curbs and stairwells, doing household chores — doesn’t happen by luck or accident.

No, you consciously have to work at maintaining your mobility.

At least that’s the message coming from Tracy Smith, Cleveland Clinic Florida’s director of physical therapy.

“One of our goals is to educate seniors about the importance of taking preventive action now,” explained Smith. “Too often, people think of physical therapy simply as a way to rehabilitate a joint or muscle group after an injury or surgery. But it’s really so much more than that. Exercises related to certain movements can help slow down, or even stave off, age-related health problems for many seniors.”

Among the ways that physical therapists such as Smith help folks maintain mobility and independence:

  • Full evaluation of patients’ strength, flexibility and range of motion
  • Gait analysis (this helps patients improve their walking skills and work on areas of weakness)
  • Balance testing and training (reducing the risk of falls is crucial for seniors because falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older)
  • Resistance training (improving the strength of muscles and the density of bones decreases patients’ vulnerability to degenerative conditions such as osteoporosis)
  • Flexibility and range of motion exercises (these help lengthen muscles and help decrease the likelihood of painful, soft-tissue injuries)

At specialized physical therapy facilities, such as Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens location (4520 Donald Ross Road), the personalized approach is custom-tailored to each patient’s individual needs and goals.

“We work hands-on with our patients the entire time they’re here in order to teach them what they’ll need to know so that they can maintain their long-term mobility on their own,” said Smith.

Of course, maintaining one’s fitness and well-being is always more enjoyable in a group setting. So, once folks “graduate” from a program like Smith’s Cleveland Clinic Florida protocol, they might want to consider ways to ensure they continue making progress.

One of the most popular and longest tenured free local wellness programs for seniors is offered thrice-weekly (Monday/ Wednesday/Friday, 7 to 8:30 a.m. during the school year) at the Florida Atlantic University Basketball Arena (777 Glades Road, Boca Raton).

For more than 20 years, the FAU Department of Exercise Science & Health has been running the FAU Well Program at which participating seniors do cardio, strength, balance and flexibility training under the supervision of Department of Exercise Science & Health students and instructors.

Overseen by FAU Exercise Science professor Sue Graves, the program has been remarkably successful, she said, at both improving participants’ fitness and detecting potential problems before they become serious.

“We assess everyone before and after every session,” explained Graves. “We want to encourage improvement — and immediately notice any decline.”

To learn more about the FAU Well Program, call 561-297-2938 or visit

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