Functional fitness. Are you familiar with the term? Let’s look at an example and see if you can relate:
You’re spending the afternoon with the grandkids and things are going oh-so-well. No bumps, scrapes or bruises, everyone’s happy and smiling.
You attempt to pick up the youngest, a sturdy little guy about 18 months old, and put him in his high chair for a snack. Except…your arms don’t want to reach up high enough to get him over the top of the tray and into the chair. You manage to get him seated and happily enjoying his tasty treat, but what in the world just happened?
You’re a fit 58-year-old, you walk, lift a few weights, enjoy a bike ride when the weather permits. That means you’re fit, right? So what’s up with the high chair episode?
What happened, my friend is called functional fitness, and your body just wasn’t up to the challenge.
What is Functional Fitness and How Does It Compliment Aerobic and Strength Training?
Functional fitness is about training your body to allow you to perform real-life activities in real-life positions.
Aerobic exercises like brisk walking, swimming, and bike-riding, are definitely necessary as we age. These cardiovascular activities get our blood pumping and large muscle groups working, and provide a variety of benefits such as lowering blood pressure, regulating blood sugar and assist in weight management.
We need to keep cardiovascular exercise in our lives, my friends.
Strength training after 50 is also an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. As part of a regular workout routine, it helps improve muscle strength and posture as well as maintain bone strength.
Functional fitness takes the aspect of strength training and teaches muscles to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.
Remember that example with the grandchild? What were the components of that activity?
- Bend down
- Pick up the child
- Lift the child up and over the tray of the high chair (while their legs are swinging in all directions!)
- Slide the child into the seat, carefully, holding onto them until they are safely seated
Functional fitness exercises will work all of those arm muscles and the leg muscles that support so that the act of lifting a small child up and over is do-able.
Think about other daily activities, such as filling or emptying the dishwasher, carrying groceries and putting them away, changing the sheets on the bed, bending down to pick something up off the floor, pulling weeds in the garden, sitting on the floor (then getting up again)…get the idea?
As we age, we need to be able to use our muscles for everyday tasks without worrying about strains, pulls, and other injuries.
If we want to remain active and strong as we age, a combination of aerobic exercise plus strength training, including targeted functional fitness exercises, is absolutely essential!
Benefits of Functional Fitness After 50
As we incorporate functional fitness exercises in our workout routines, we’ll not only increase our overall strength, we will be able to move better. Our balance, endurance, and flexibility will improve.
Maintaining our sense of balance as we age is critical, as our risk of injury from falls increases due to our lessening bone strength as well as a longer recovery period. Why does this happen? Our cognitive abilities decline as we get older, so maintaining the mental focus required to prevent falls becomes more fatiguing.
Yes, my friends, it really does become more difficult to ‘walk and talk’ at the same time. Add to that the decline of our vision, hearing, and aching or swollen joints as we age, and we’re basically a hot mess.
The reality of incorporating functional fitness exercises into our exercise routine is simple: we have to do it!
Recently, I started incorporating some gentle Pilates into my workout routine. I use the term ‘gentle’ because it is a type of Pilates that is intended for women over 50. We do the exercises at a pace that is right for us and don’t have to worry about following the instructor’s exact movements.
Pilates is a method of exercise that consists of low-impact flexibility and muscular strength and endurance movements. emphasizing proper postural alignment, core strength, and muscle balance. Pilates is named for its creator, Joseph Pilates, who developed the exercises in the 1920s.
A Pilates routine generally includes exercises that promote core strength and stability, muscle control and endurance, including exercises that stress proper posture and movement patterns and balanced flexibility and strength.
I very quickly learned that my suspicions about my balance and dexterity were spot-on: they need to be developed and strengthened! Although I love to walk, and brisk walking is wonderful aerobic exercise, it is not helping my balance, strength, and coordination of muscles in the way that functional fitness exercises would do.
Strength training has also been a part of my workout routine for years, but in a more traditional way, by isolating and working certain muscle groups individually.
For me, some gentle Pilates is a way for me to bring functional fitness into my workout routine. It is an aspect of strength training that an isolated move with weights will not accomplish.
What Types of Functional Fitness Exercises Should an Over 50 Person Do?
Here are some suggested exercises that will improve functional fitness for adults of all ages:
After you’ve cleared the physical activity with your physician, completing exercises like these 3 to 4 days per week should provide results.
Refer to this article from Healthline for these and other exercises plus complete how-to’s!
- SQUAT – a similar movement to sitting in a chair
- INCLINE CHEST PRESS – works the same muscles as doing pushups but more beginner(and age) friendly
- PLANK – requires mobility and balance, and practice!
- WALL SQUAT – similar to a regular squat but with more back support
- STATIONARY LUNGE – mimics the movement of getting off the ground
- SINGLE-LEG LIFT – improves balance, engages the core and works each side of the body separately
When I’m searching for anything exercise and fitness related for women over 50, I always refer to Linda Melone, a highly regarded fitness expert, and also a woman close to 60.
Linda has two wonderful videos that demonstrate functional fitness exercises. Here is one video that I have done with 5 lb. weights. It will definitely get your muscles and coordination ready to put the grandkid in the high chair!
If for some reason it doesn’t work or you would rather not have the video, we’ll just provide the link.
Here is the link to Linda Melone’s video workouts for functional fitness. It would be well worth your time to see what Linda recommends and try them yourself.
Aging Well Must Include Keeping Our Bodies Strong & Fit
As we get older, we may modify our choices and activities to accommodate the changes in our bodies, but by no means do we have to sit in a chair and act like, well…old people!
The best time to start caring for your body, mind, and spirit is right now, no matter your age. It is a combination of self-care that includes:
Keeping our bodies strong and fit is one piece of the puzzle, but extremely important. It’s the foundation, along with our nutritional choices, that keeps everything else running smoothly.
Functional fitness is key to strength, balance, and quality of life as we age. Let’s all make these essential exercises a regular part of our exercise routines!