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The Elusive Home Exercise Program: Integrating Therapy Exercises Into Your Life

Written by Brittney Moreis, MS, OTR/L

Virtual Hand to Shoulder Therapy Fellow ‘20

“Just simply add these 5 exercises into your day, 5 times a day, 5 sets, 20 reps!”, your therapist cheerfully requests. “Okay, no problem!”, you agree. Until you quickly realize, easier said than done! Effective home exercise programs can take up to 30, 40, even 45 minutes a day, and it’s all too easy to say “yes” to something without fully realizing how difficult it is to squeeze this into an already busy day. In this post, I will share how to get those elusive home exercises built into your daily routine, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by yet another time eating “to-do” on your list.

The problem:

As a clinician, I have observed a particular pattern over the years as it relates to the HEP. Clients often either forget to do their exercises or they simply don’t feel they have the time to do them. I will have prescribed a HEP that is designed to help them achieve their therapy goals, but they come back to their follow up appointments ashamed or frustrated that they didn’t do their exercises.

Most of the time, it wasn’t a conscious choice to not do their HEP; we all know it can be difficult to incorporate new healthy habits into a routine. I have had the conversation about how to effectively change habits not only with clients, but with friends, colleagues, and even myself! We discuss everything from making changes to eating habits, fitness habits, work habits, as well as integrating home exercises. It’s hard! Some of us simply forget, but many may put off our exercises because it feels like there is something else more pressing to do with our valuable time. But if we look more closely at our day, there may more idle time than we realize for opportunities to get our home exercises in without feeling overwhelmed.

How to fix it:

Review your typical day. In detail! It may be helpful to write it out so you can find all the times you have 4-5 minutes to get in a few reps.

Set your reminders. It could be a phone or watch alarm, or post-it notes in locations you’re sure to see them to remind you to do your HEP.

Consider the space that you are able to perform your HEP. Some exercises may require more space and may necessitate resistive bands, therapy putty, or weights. While other exercises are movement based and could be done discretely even while commuting to work on the train.

Some suggestions:

Breakdown your program exercises to fit your daily routine, for example do wrist and finger ROM during more idle times such as while on the train or waiting in line at the grocery store, and leave the strengthening bands to be done at home, maybe a set in the morning and a set in the evening.

In the process of heading to work, you may find you are typically walking from your parking space, then riding the elevator, and walking to your office for about 4 minutes a day, twice a day. This is a perfect chunk of time that you can set an alarm as a reminder to do some more of those exercises to move you closer to achieving your therapy goals.

If you are home waiting for your tea to boil and steep every evening, a post-it note on your cabinet door could remind you to begin the minute you pull your mug out.

Additional suggestions:

Put an alarm on your phone or your watch, or keep a reminder post-it somewhere you’re not likely to miss it to remind yourself to throw in a few reps while you are:

Waiting in line for coffee or for lunch

While brushing your teeth

Walking out to get the mail

Walking to the bathroom

During commercial breaks

The benefit to doing upper extremity exercises is that most of them can be easily incorporated into our day, with just a little planning. It does require a new habit, sometimes temporarily or you may want to maintain your HEP long-term if you continue to feel it benefits you. However, once your alarm has gone off enough times, you will more automatically notice the spaces in your day where you can incorporate some quick shoulder depressions, take some deep breaths, or call your mom back ;) Happy HEP’ing!



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