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A young woman sits on a large red ball, holding a tissue box and a paper towel roll.

Amanda Shiplack holds a paper towel roll and empty tissue box, examples of household objects that can be used to promote accessible, fun movement exercises for all.

Physical therapy student promotes movement with household items

December 6, 2023 — 

Second-year UM physical therapy student Amanda Shiplack believes that exercise should be seen as fun, rather than a chore.

That’s the approach she used when creating a one-day event for people with cognitive and physical challenges at a local geriatric day hospital earlier this year.

While on a first-year clinical placement at the facility, Shiplack was leading an exercise class and remembered a rainbow-coloured ball in the corner of another room. With a couple of minutes to spare in the session, she got the ball and kicked it lightly to one of the clients and then encouraged the group to do the same.

“It was the same cue I gave them for their leg extensions. We only kicked around this ball for two minutes, but what happened in those two minutes was really quite a surprise,” said Shiplack. “People were smiling and engaged. And for the rest of the afternoon they kept thanking me.”

Normally, she said, many of those same clients were struggling with instructions and bored doing the same movements as repetitive exercises.

“I thought this could be a fluke, so I tried it with my other groups. For the rest of the week, I did that at the end of my exercise sessions with each group and had the same results,” she said.

This led Shiplack to create her one-day “Movement for Life” program. “It started with that rainbow ball and got me thinking about how I could tie physical literacy concepts and playfulness into an event.”

Shiplack decided the program had to adhere to three standards. First, it needed to be accessible for all, no matter what their physical or mental abilities. Next, the activities had to allow room for creativity and cooperative play without a “right” or “wrong” component. The activities also needed to incorporate common household items, rather than specialized exercise or sports equipment.

“I didn’t want people to feel that they had to wait until someone could drive them to a store, or until they had money to buy something because that is just repeating a lot of the barriers that come about even with regular fitness,” she said.

The household items included tissue boxes, paper towel rolls, newspapers, coins and baskets. Participants rotated between rooms to design their own playful movements with a guest friend or family member. They were seen kicking facecloths into baskets, using paper towel rolls as baseball bats to hit rolled up balls of newspaper, and playing “mock air hockey” with tissue boxes and coins on a table, among other activities.

Two women sit at a long table, pushing a coin between each other using empty tissue boxes.

Amanda Shiplack and Kelly Codispodi demonstrate a ‘mock air hockey’ game that participants created, using tissue boxes and coins.

“Clients were reaching their arms, and kicking their legs in directions they didn’t know they could. The best part? Everyone was voluntarily participating in the movements,” Shiplack said.

Over 20 people took part in the event, including nine clients, staff, and friends or family members. Shiplack said the response was overwhelmingly positive.

“I had one client say they could use these ideas for family games at Christmas or Easter gatherings with kids and grandchildren,” she said. “This is what I wanted – for our clients to find joy, go home and accidentally do movement that’s fun with friends and family. This fulfills the program’s goal right there.”

Kelly Codispodi, academic coordinator of clinical education for the physical therapy department at the College of Rehabilitation Sciences, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, attended the event and encouraged Shiplack to share the experience at a recent presentation for faculty, staff and students on Bannatyne campus.

“This was a unique experience for a first-year student. I wanted to share what she was doing with faculty and the greater Rady community, because it really highlights that, as a student, you can do things, you can make suggestions and impact change,” Codispodi said.

“A lot of people find exercising boring. But to engage in social connections and have fun with friends and family, I think, will have a lasting approach.”

Shiplack also recently gave a presentation on the “Movement for Life” program at the Collaborating for Health and Wellness Conference, a virtual event hosted by the college in collaboration with the University of Saskatchewan and University of Alberta.

“The results from the event have proved to be more important than I could have predicted. Many people are intrigued by the event and its practicality, compelling me to continue sharing, and hopefully repeat it in the future.”


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