With as much change that we see in the world around us, it’s more difficult to try and stay healthy and physically active. With quarantining and the colder months looming, options for exercise are limited and often isolating. So, what do we do? University of Findlay Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy Dr. Amy Schlessman has some ideas, and she thinks that they might just change the way we think about staying active.
When Schlessman was in sixth grade, she said, she was visiting the school book fair and happened to glimpse her future in the form of a book she bought and couldn’t stop thinking of. “It was called ‘50 Things Kids Can do to Save the Earth Kids can Help Save the Earth,’” she said. “It immediately made me want to get involved. That began my passion for the Reduce Reuse, Recycle movement.” This movement, the one that encouraged Schlessman and kids like her to better the planet through recycling, became a part of her approach to life and exercise, one that continued on with her into adulthood and a career as a physical therapy educator.
It makes sense that she would combine her two passions, thereby creating a new approach to both. In 2002, when she started out in the PT field, she began working in and with school districts to get PT programs up and running. “I needed to be cognizant of budgets and moving from classroom to classroom covering numerous districts,” she said. “You have to have the equipment and be able to share it all and try to be fiscally responsible.” She realized that “kids really like a box,” she said, and began to get the wheels turning on using household items like boxes and the like that can be left in the classroom to encourage activity. It was all about maximizing potential. Teachers soon began to see their students engaging mentally when Schlessman’s creative ideas – things like paper towel tubes being stacked to measure height, refrigerator boxes employed to make shape boards, and homemade piñatas crafted out of paper bags and filled with recycled plastic and cardboard cards with math and geography questions – started to gain interest. And when the students were running obstacle courses around plastic bottles and cans and playing frisbee golf with cottage cheese and sour cream container lids, among other physical activities, their bodies were shaping up right along with their minds.
Schlessman went on to write a book in 2015 called Recycle Bin Boogie: Move and Learn with Recyclables, and began presenting on it at different conferences. A few months ago, at one of those conferences, she was approached by The American Physical Therapy Association to help out with a campaign they were starting in celebration of their centennial anniversary. “They said, ‘We’re going to have a new campaign for 2020, recognizing virtual learning and the minimizing of extra-curriculars in light of COVID,’” she said. “Trying to determine how we can stay fit in small spaces and homes and such. They asked if I’d want to pitch an idea in a video to them about ways families can stay fit. So, I did.”
And it worked.
Schlessman was chosen to create a final video representing The American Physical Therapy Association to be used in launching their “Time to Move” Physical Activity Campaign, an effort to create
public awareness of the necessity for physical activity. “It’s a video called Family Fun: Ideas to Add Physical Activity to Your Child’s Day,” she said. “I made it about simple ways families can add physical activity to a child’s day with those common household items. With the increase of parents feeling the homeschool connection, their feeling an urgency to get involved in their health, and trying to work with what they already have, it makes a lot of sense.”
Schlessman is sure to note that this “something out of nothing” method of sustainable exercise should not just be relegated to kids; rather it should be utilized by everyone, and even used to connect the ages. She has incorporated it into a presentation for Lifelong Learning Connections at UF and she has presented it with University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum as an “extension of children’s books, having them act out the story, reinforcing plot and rhyming.”
Because families are spending so much time at home and spending less money, she said it’s extra important to adapt the physical activity situation to everyone. “How can we engage the ten-year-old as well as the 85-year old? How can we involve both grandchild and grandparent with things and products that anyone can do and use in their house? We want physical activity to be a part of everyday rituals like teeth brushing. And when it’s easy and fun – that’s when it happens.”