Dr. Steven Alexander of Spark Performance and Physiotherapy in Mesa believes more seniors are starting to engage in a less sedentary lifestyle. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

A new study confirms seniors love the Grand Canyon State and that means big business for one physical therapist. 

According to a Census study released in September, Arizona had the highest net migration rate from 2015-19 as over 21,000 people 65 and older relocated to the Grand Canyon State.

“It’s really been changing and it’s been more active adults that have been coming into it,” Dr. Steven Alexander said.

Alexander, physical therapist and owner at Spark Performance Physiotherapy, started his business in 2018 and said this time of year brings an increase in his older clientele, and in recent years, an increase in their activity levels. 

Alexander said some of the reasons include the growing popularity of sports such as pickleball, amenities built into retirement communities or simply the research that supports the benefits of being physically active.

Alexander graduated from Arizona State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s in kinesiology, and in 2013 from Regis University with his doctorate in physical therapy. 

Over his career, Alexander said he has seen many practices change that needing changing in the physical therapy industry.

Alexander said one practice he wanted to escape was “mill-like” physical therapy, when providers take in as many patients  as quickly as possible. 

“I wanted to treat people like I think they should be treated – in the one-on-one setting,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the pandemic helped create that more intimate, one-on-one setting for his patients with social distancing.

“I hate saying it,” Alexander said. “I know the pandemic was bad for a lot of people, but for me, it helped the business a ton.”

Along with that, Alexander said he saw a lack of “old, basic” strength-conditioning principles where some of the past clinics he worked in only had three dumbbells for their patients to use.

“I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot more things in life that are heavier than three pounds,” Alexander said.

Over the past few years, Alexander said his patients have found new reasons to stay active, compared with past clinics he’s worked in. 

“What’s been nice to see is our senior population isn’t what I’m used to seeing in other clinics,” Alexander said. 

Whether it’s simply older adults wanting “to earn their adult beverages in the evening” or the socialization found in dancing, pickleball or tennis, activity is the new medication for aging, he said.

While these older adults don’t completely avoid injury, Alexander said he’s seeing new injuries and new motivation to stay active.

One common reason Alexander said older adults avoid exercise is because of the fear that exercise will cause pain or worsen the pain.

Here’s the kicker, Alexander said: pain does not always mean there is damage. You shouldn’t ignore it, but you should also not fear it, he said. 

“Usually, it’s because you did too much after doing too little,” Alexander said. “Or you’re doing too little after doing too much.”

Alexander advises people to stay away from a peer pressure trap from friends, family members or medical professionals.

“I always tell people, you got to find new thresholds,” Alexander said. “But never jump straight into it.”

The most important aspect Alexander said most people miss is a lack of accountability.

If a physical therapist isn’t empowering you, Alexander said, they’re doing something wrong, because active treatment is better than a passive treatment.

“You can’t really expect to get better,” Alexander said. “Your body’s great at healing when it’s put in a position to heal.” 


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