Functional Exercise Can Help Make Aging Easier

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • “Dorian, please pick up this jug of distilled water and bring it into the house for me,” Dad asked. Now in his mid-80s, Dad has difficulty lifting things and also has worries about his balance so I’m his go-to person for all things lifting, reaching, and bending.

    Dad’s situation has got me thinking – what exercises should I focus on so that I can still do these seemingly simple things as I age? A Houston Chronicle story on fitness caught my eye. “Exercisers 50 and older – who tend to have more discretionary income than younger generations – can look forward to aging gracefully with fitness programs made just for them, according to the American College of Sports Medicine,” reporter Jessica Belasco wrote, adding, “Functional fitness – workouts to help you perform everyday tasks – will continue to grow in popularity, possibly to reflect the needs of baby boomers.”

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    So what, pray tell, is functional fitness? According to WebMD, functional fitness is an exercise program that helps your body handle real-life situations. “Functional fitness and functional exercise are the latest gym buzzwords,” Gina Shaw wrote on the site. “They focus on building a body capable of doing real-life activities in real-life positions, not just lifting a certain amount of weight in an idealized posture created by a gym machine.”

    And functional fitness requires an investment in effort by the person doing it. “There are things we can do, that no doctor or health provider can do, to prevent and forestall some of the muscle and joint changes we commonly associate with aging,” Dr. Paul D’Arezzo stated in his book, “Functional Fitness: Look Younger, Stay Active Longer.” To forestall these changes, each person needs to work on staying strong, remaining flexible, correcting and maintaining posture, and staying active.

    Sometimes these changes seem to come out of the blue. Noting that we each have a grace period concerning our body’s performance, D’Arezzo wrote, “For much of our lives, particularly when we are younger, our bodies work in the background like faithful servants doing our biding without question or complaint. They put up with our weekend warrior attempts, our long periods of inactivity, and our day, weeks, and years of repetitive activity.” At a certain stage, the body begins to rebel. However, D’Arezzo believes that this rebellion is actually a result of a slow and progressive loss of function. “It is only when things reach a critical point that we become aware of what may have been going on beneath the surface for a long time,” he stated.

    An added plus in developing a functional exercise plan is that these exercises can help ease pains that you’re already experiencing. “Paints that have been bothering you for a long time may very well go away,” the doctor noted. “Sometimes only a small improvement in strength, flexibility, or body alignment is enough to take pressure off an area that is being rubbed raw, or provide relief for muscles that have been going into spasm. Doing something now can be enough to prevent the onset or progression of certain types of arthritis or the need for joint replacement surgery in the future.”

  • So what does functional exercise consist of? Trainer Carey Kepler stressed that core fitness of the abdominal system and the back is critical because it establishes longer functional strength in the extremities.  Exercise that develop core strength also promote flexibility and stability; these qualities are important, according to Kepler, because “Most of our life, we are either rotating or we are on a single leg, even in walking, jogging and athletics.”

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    Kepler has created a series of videos which show a variety of functional exercises. These videos include: standing locomotion functional exercise, diagonal woodchop, functional fitness jogging, medicine ball pushups, medicine ball rotation, multidirectional lunge, Russian twist functional exercise, single arm tube press, skater exercise, skier exercise, and bent over rows.

    As we age, functional exercises take on increasing importance. Don’t wait until you get to the point where you can’t pick up your dog’s toys or carry the groceries to start adding in these fitness routines.

Published On: December 30, 2010