We hear a lot about topics such as health, exercise, fitness, and we talk about them.
We say things like: “I worry about my health.” “I want to have better physical fitness.” “I think I’ll start an exercise program.”
However, many of us don’t realize that we are really just making generalized statements about broad subjects.
For example, when you talk about “exercise”, you could be talking about running, weight lifting, gardening, swimming, or bicycling. You could be talking about doing a few pushups a day, or yoga every day.
Each one of these forms of exercise is different in some ways from the others, and each will, if done properly and regularly, produce different results.
Almost all forms of exercise can contribute to “health” and to “fitness”, but each in their own way and to the degree that many factors allow them to. How much you exercise at a time, how often you exercise over time, and even how your own body reacts to the exercise you are doing all contribute to the ultimate results.
If you want a strong cardiovascular system, you choose aerobic type activities which don’t always produce a lot of strength. If you want more strength, you may choose resistance exercises which may only have a small effect on your cardiovascular health. If you want to lose weight, live longer, or just be healthy, you may have to find a balanced workout that doesn’t concentrate on strength or cardiovascular results, but which does help you manage your weight, live longer, and stay in better health.
However, as we age, most of the conventional exercise programs tend to overlook a particular form of fitness which becomes somewhat harder to achieve with each passing year… and with ordinary exercise programs.
This is functional fitness. It is not just a question of how many pushups we can do or how far we can walk in an hour. It is about how good we are at living life.
You see, as we age, many things happen to our bodies.
We lose some of our strength. We lose some of our flexibility. We lose some of our cardiovascular efficiency, and we lose some of our ability to put all those things together to allow us to do the daily activities of life.
For example, you may do resistance training for strength, and aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health and efficiency, but, you may still have trouble carrying in a trunkful of groceries, fixing a meal for the family, doing yard work, or enjoying some quality time with the grandkids.
And, my friend, you don’t have to be “old” for this to happen… or, at least, begin to happen. Our naturally sedentary society together with narrow-focused exercise programs, when we bother to do them, help us lose our functional abilities faster than you might imagine.
Even worse, loss of functional fitness is a slippery slope. Once it begins, it tends to continue, picking up speed with each passing year. Our unwillingness, or inability, to turn the tide around, causes us to lose functional fitness at increasing rates over time.
Not only does it become harder to do the things we would like to do, and used to do easily, but our health begins to suffer, perhaps to the point of adding to our risk for various age, and activity, related health problems.
Of course, you can begin doing strength exercises, and, you can begin taking walks and maybe even get to the point where you are running. If you are lucky, or in time, that may be all it takes to achieve functional fitness. However, if you can do your workouts and your walks or whatever and still have a hard time getting the groceries into the house, you still have problems with functional fitness.
Of course, exercise is not the only factor. What you eat, how much you sleep, and even the company you keep can all have an effect on health and fitness.
This makes putting together a comprehensive program to restore functional fitness, or prevent its loss, a bit complicated, and more than can be covered in an article of only a few hundred words. Each person is different, and getting the right mix of activity, rest, nutrition, and life in general, will require study, guidance, or both.
However, loss of functional fitness is a very real possibility for even the most health and fitness conscious individual, so it makes sense to learn as much as possible about the problem, and its solution, as possible.