In 2017, the British Heart Foundation found that 20 million people in the UK were sedentary; not meeting the recommended amount of physical activity. That’s a little less than a third of the country’s population. A startling statistic by itself, there’s much more to the minimum physical activity recommendation than simply going for a 150-minute walk.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP), together with Sport England, have published a report investigating the messaging of strengthening to patients with long-term conditions, aged between 39 and 64. As age-related muscle loss begins from middle age and can be worse in those who stop using their muscles, it’s particularly important for this group to complete strength training as part of their physical activity.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the report’s findings, and how they might affect your physiotherapy clinic.
Strength Messaging Insight Report Findings
When it was discovered in 2019 that those with long-term conditions (LTCs) weren’t undertaking enough strengthening, this report was commissioned in order to see what conflicts there were in communicating the importance of it, how messaging could be improved and how health professionals could better encourage behavioural change.
First stage: Research
Using online diaries and interviews, the team found that those with an LTC were a highly diverse group, with different backgrounds, mindsets and levels their LTCs affect them. They also found that the awareness of strengthening as training was limited, particularly in comparison with exercising for cardiovascular health and more broad physical activity. NHS guidelines were generally thought to be vague when it came to physical exercise; not specific enough.
While the team found that many people with LTCs were interested in learning more about strengthening, particularly for its short-term benefits, there was a widespread belief that their condition would prevent them from partaking in such exercise.
Second stage: Creative Development
When creating conceptual approaches to supporting the strengthening message project, the report highlighted some interesting tips for language used. For instance:
- Convey rather than explicitly state that strengthening is easy
- Use everyday language that is easy to understand
- Refer to both ‘maintaining’ and ‘improving’ strength rather than just one or the other
The language we use makes a huge difference in how our message is taken by the audience. Patronising or complex language can exclude patients, so it’s important to make messaging balanced and clear.
Third stage: Concept Testing
The CSP tested two concepts they’d developed: a tailored strength plan with a patient-chosen goal; and a communications campaign that helped physiotherapists talk effectively to patients about strengthening exercises.
Physiotherapists also said that training on speaking to and inciting behavioural change in patients, videos that explained exercises, and progress trackers for patients would all be most useful in better helping patients engage with strengthening.
The research team discovered that the first concept, where patients were given a tailored plan, was dramatically more popular. Physiotherapists felt that patients benefited from a personalised plan and that they themselves had a clear role to help their patients reach their goals.
Physiotherapists also liked the idea of an online hub, where patients could access resources, as well as offline materials to capture those without digital access or preference.
Challenges for Physio Staff
The project, titled ‘Stronger My Way’, will be designed to make both patients’ lives and healthcare providers’ jobs easier, but the report did find some specific challenges.
The report found that some physiotherapists, notably NHS staff, faced a lack of time with patients as well as low patient understanding, as barriers to encouraging a greater understanding of strengthening. Additionally, patients typically view physiotherapists as professionals who treat an immediate problem, rather than someone to go to for longer term advice.
In addition, some staff may find it difficult to recognise emotional barriers to strengthening, despite having an excellent understanding of the target group’s physical barriers.
To the Future
The full report is a comprehensive study with some fascinating insights. It shows how important strength training is for a diverse range of patients living with LTCs but also how much of a challenge it can be for physiotherapists to communicate this to the right audience, at the right time and with the right tools.
Going forward, the Stronger My Way campaign aims to pull together what the report has discovered and activate the project to aid physiotherapists and their patients to improve understanding of strength training and better engage with it.
Here at Meridius, we have long been a proponent of strength training, that’s why we have our very own range of resistance bands. With loops, different resistance levels and a washable constructions, our bands last for years to come so check them out today!