Functional Fitness to Maintain an Active Lifestyle

By Anthony Hamilton, Functional Aging Specialist | Ageless Fitness – Fall/Winter 2019-2020

Functional Fitness

Don’t stop Moving! Move…a lot. The most basic key to achieve functional longevity is human movement. We were created to move and we should be moving naturally every day. Natural movements are those things we do in order to accomplish a task or to provide enjoyment. Lifting, bending, stooping, walking, running, carrying, pushing, pulling, jumping, skipping, hopping, squatting, throwing, catching, crawling, climbing, rolling, somersaulting, etc. These are all natural movements that we have been doing since birth.

Functional Fitness: Exercise

Exercise is really just a specific type of physical activity, but it is one that yields many additional benefits beyond just being physically active. Unfortunately, exercise is poorly understood by the typical adult, especially in the context of aging.

Exercises Are Not All Created Equal

Not all exercises are created equal. An exercise program designed for functional fitness and longevity looks VERY different than the kind of program the vast majority of people engage in. Most people follow programs that increase muscle size and strength. On the surface, this sounds good to combat aging, since the aging process tends to reduce both. However, research has made it pretty clear that, although these types of programs unequivocally improve muscle size and strength (even in 90 or 100 year olds), they do NOT necessarily improve physical function. Latham and colleagues (2004) reviewed the best training studies available. They concluded that strength gains are not equal to similar functional improvements in older adults who exercise regularly. And those who become the strongest do not necessarily become the most functional.

Physical Function

Strength gains and functional improvement are not equal. is because physical function is much more complicated than we realize. This is for the reason that there are many other factors which contribute to physical function other than just how big and strong the muscles are. These factors include: motor control, coordination, muscle power, proprioception, sensory integration, balance, stability, mobility, agility and more. An exercise program designed to improve physical function should challenge most or all of these factors. However, the typical exercise program, including basic strength and cardio machines, does not address functional longevity.

Six Domains of Functional Fitness:

  • Neuro-Muscular: Focuses on coordination, moving faster and improving reaction time. For example, pickle Ball is a great activity to stimulate the Neuro-Muscular system.
  • Cognitive-Emotional: Focuses on memory and problem solving. Keep an active social environment. Similarly, play card games and interact with friends and family as much as possible.
  • Mobility: Move in ALL planes of motion!  For instance, do chair squats, wood chops with a light weight, shuffle side to side.  These are the movements that maintain full range of motion in the joints and allow us to move on command without restriction.
  • Balance: Focuses on postural control and breathing. Challenge your balance daily to maintain stability and stimulate the nervous system.
  • Cardio Respiratory: Heart health. Walking is great, but this may be too easy for most. Try adding hills or stairs to improve cardio health.
  • Strength: If you don’t use it, you lose it!  Stimulate muscles with strength training that includes speed and power. For instance, focus on standing up FASTER!

By integrating these six  domains into your lifestyle, you can stay active longer and slow down the aging process. If you need help, contact your local Functional Aging Specialist at Ageless Fitness.

Anthony Hamilton ~ Ageless Fitness


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This article was formerly published under the title Strategies to Reduce Pain, Stay Strong, and Maintain an Active Lifestyle in the Fall/Winter 2019/ 2020 Edition of Vibrant Senior Options Resource Guide.

Related: Reasons Why Strength Training is Important

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