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June 2023
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I’ll See You, ICU

Exercise Benefits Even the Critically Ill

Study shows those who exercised were more likely to be eventually discharged from the hospital than those who didn't.

Study shows those who exercised were more likely to be eventually discharged from the hospital than those who didn't.

“Is it all worth it?”

An older gentleman friend of mine said this to me at the gym today, wondering whether all the effort he’s put in at the gym over the years will amount to anything.

Joe is a bit overweight, so this is no doubt the reason why he left the gym sounding defeated with his exercise excursion.  It’s too bad he can’t see the big picture, as he doesn’t have any diseases or illnesses to speak of, and he’s well into his 70s!

But even if he were bedridden or had to be admitted to a hospital for some serious condition, the effects of exercising while there would increase his chances of improving tremendously.  You don’t have to take my word for it, though; a recent study published online says so as well.

The study was conducted by doctors from the University of Chicago, and it involved patients who were bedridden, or more specifically, critically ill to the point of needing sedation in the Intensive Care Unit.

While the 104 people’s conditions involved in the study was serious enough that they required ventilators, they were healthy enough to be taken off the ventilators for limited amounts of time.

It was under these conditions that doctors had some of the patients participate in light physical therapy, where 49 of them were able to get up and move around.  The others remain lying in bed, receiving the standard treatment for their condition.

After several weeks of this, the researchers came away with some amazing findings that would send shivers down the spine of my good friend Joe.  They found that approximately 60 percent of those who participated in the physical therapy aspect of rehabilitation achieved what the researchers refer to as “independent functional status.”  They defined this as the ability to walk without any need of assistance and able to perform six different tasks of daily living.

Further, those who exercised were more likely to be eventually discharged from the hospital, had more days in which they were off their ventilators entirely, and more likely to have days without any confusion or delirium-related issues (neurological episodes are common among people sedated for long period of time in Intensive Care Units, according to the study).

Comparatively, 35 percent of those who received the standard care without the physical therapy eventually achieved “independent functional status.”  A fair number of people, sure, but clearly not as high as those who were given exercise daily.

The results were compelling and robust enough for researchers from Switzerland to chime in with their own commentary on the subject in the journal where the study was published, The Lancet , saying that physical therapy ought to be a prescribed treatment for all people submitted to an ICU.

Heaven forbid my friend Joe needs to be admitted to an ICU, but I’m hoping he gets a chance to read this study.  Perhaps then he’ll realize the exercise he’s doing is keeping him out of the ICU…and can help get him out of the ICU should he ever be admitted.


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