The Benefits of Functional Fitness for Older Adults

functional fitness benefits

Functional Fitness Benefits

by Kelly Uhler

What is functional fitness?

What comes to mind when you think about physical fitness? Weightlifting? Running? Burpees? Though these types of exercises are effective for many, they may be difficult, and sometimes even downright dangerous, for older adults. A functional fitness approach is more beneficial for individuals age 50plus. 

Functional fitness is a form of exercise that prepares your body for everyday activities. This type of program includes movements such as squatting, bending, twisting, pulling, and pushing. The exercises help train your muscles to do everyday tasks more efficiently and safely.

How does functional fitness benefit older adults?

Functional fitness incorporates movements commonly used during activities of daily living. In other words, the exercises mimic the motions you use for your usual tasks. They focus on strength, flexibility, and balance to reduce fall risks and injuries, help you maintain your independence, and improve your mental health. 

The vast majority of older folks with whom I worked seem to slow down after retirement. Their activity levels decreased significantly once they no longer followed a rigid work schedule. The transition from an active to a sedentary lifestyle frequently causes issues over time. You may notice your joints feel more stiff or achy or your range of motion somewhat decreased. Daily activities such as cleaning or carrying heavy household items might seem more difficult. Usually caused by long periods of inactivity, these symptoms can lead to a decline in your mental health in addition to your physical health. 

Without intervention, this process may continue as the years go by. Over time you may find that you rely more heavily on others to help with daily activities. When that happens, you might need to call a family member to help move some boxes out of the closet or help put away groceries. Many of those I worked with told me they would love to go back in time to take better care of their bodies. Some even expressed that they wished they focused less on how their body looked, and more on how well it worked on a daily basis. Some former weightlifters with whom I worked shared with me that they were so worried about building their muscles that they neglected their flexibility and range of motion, leading to pain and stiffness as they got older.

Best functional fitness exercises for older adults

Functional fitness exercises work your muscles in the same way they are used during daily activities. As a result, these exercises help optimize the way your body performs and reduce the risk of injury.  I recommend searching for “personal trainers for seniors to provide guidance and help you stay motivated.

Functional fitness prioritizes strength, flexibility, and balance. Below are some examples of basic exercises, and how they will benefit you during daily activities:

Basic functional fitness exercises

  • Squats:

    Picking things up off the floor, reaching into low cabinets, feeding your pets, lifting laundry baskets, or getting off the couch.

  • Lunges:

  • Lunges improve balance, make it easier to climb stairs, and reduce the risk of a fall while walking.
  • Kettlebell Swing:

    Hinge exercises can make it safer to accomplish tasks that require bending or twisting, such as putting clothes into the dryer, lifting a small child, or sweeping.

  • Wall-Assisted Push Ups:

    Strengthen the upper body to help you lift heavier objects, and avoid serious injuries in the event of a fall by being able to break the fall and reduce the impact.

How to incorporate functional fitness into your day

Mary, a woman with whom I worked awhile back, is a great example. She lived a mostly sedentary lifestyle for most of her adult life. 

Mary worked long hours behind a desk well into her sixties, finding she had very little energy left after returning home around 7:00pm each night. She couldn’t afford to retire, but felt the physical and emotional effects of those decades of inactivity.

I introduced Mary to functional fitness, encouraging her to start slow and incorporate short exercises into her day wherever she could.  In the morning she got up and stretched, followed by a few rounds of lunges and squats as she watched the morning news.  When her coworkers went out for lunch, Mary found a bare wall and did some standing push-ups. Then she took a short walk around the outside of her building. When Mary arrived home after work, before she settled in for the evening, she took a few minutes to do a few standing rows and some squats.

Though difficult to stick to the program at first, Mary soon found she looked forward to her exercises every day. She noticed her lower back bothered her less throughout the day and it was easier to get up off the couch. In time, as she built more strength and confidence, she did more advanced exercises. She felt proud of this accomplishment, as she was skeptical at the start that she could complete the program at her age and fitness level. It was a joy to watch her transformation!

The bottom line

Functional exercises are quick and easy ways to slow and optimize the aging process. Most of us take our physical capabilities for granted when we are young. You might look back on a time where you could easily cook dinner, take out the trash, pick up items off the floor, and twist to reach for something without a second thought. Today you might feel a bit rusty, finding it’s easier to pull a muscle or lose your balance. Daily activities may suddenly become more difficult and painful.

Making functional fitness a part of your daily routine is beneficial for everyone, especially as we age. This type of program helps you age more gracefully, accomplish daily tasks more easily, and ultimately help maintain your independence for longer. Why not start today?

About the author

kelly uhlerKelly Uhler is a writer with Kickoff. She worked in the healthcare field for more than 10 years, during which time she gained extensive knowledge in health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. She decided to combine her two passions, health and writing, to become a professional writer working fir some of the most renowned functional medicine doctors. Kelly’s areas of expertise include nutrition, autoimmunity, hormones, women’s health, thyroid health, and mental health. She researches and writes extensively about a wide variety of topics related to health and fitness. She strives to write about complex topics in fun to read and easy to digest articles.  Kelly’s goal is to educate readers about their health so they can advocate for themselves and make positive changes to improve their quality of life.


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