Saturday, November 5, 2011

Functional Exercise – Fitness With a Practical Purpose

Practical and Functional Exercise © Katrena
 What is the purpose of exercise? For many people, they not only want to look and feel better, but they wish to be able to function better in activities of daily living.

Looking for Results From an Exercise Program?

Few people will regularly spend time in a gym if they never see results. Sure, they may come for a few times. If they enjoy being with others and socializing, they may continue to come. However, most people are not going to work up a sweat over and over and be content without seeing improvement somewhere.

I have noticed that many Baby Boomers in particular are very internally motivated and come to group exercise classes day after day, week after week, year after year. Many people who have exercised for years simply say they must exercise. They won't function well without it. They don't want to lose their independence.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE) article "What is functional strength training?" functional strength training "involves performing work against resistance in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements so that an individual's activities of daily living are easier to perform." In other words, people can see benefits in real life after working out.

Our society tended to be quite physically active years ago. People who lived on a farm, worked out in the fields, and baled hay probably did not need to go to a gym. They often got a great workout in the great outdoors because it was a way of life. If they stopped, they would eventually run out of food and firewood for heat. However, today's society is chock full of gadgets to make our life easier. Unfortunately, that easier life may come with a price tag on one's physical health if we become sedentary.

The CDC recommends that adults engage in regular strength training at least two days per week. The training program should include all muscle groups:
  • legs and hips
  • abdomen and back
  • chest and shoulders
  • arms
Functional strength training not only focuses on muscle groups but seeks to help to translate those movements into daily life. Take, for example, a person who has difficulty walking after an injury such as a hip fracture. A physical therapist might suggest exercises to strengthen specific muscles in the hips and legs. Arm exercises may be added in order to use adaptive devices to compensate for the injury. The person might begin with short exercise intervals and may need a walker to get from place to place. Over time, the muscles begin to strengthen and with regular exercise, the person may enjoy walking without assistance once again.
Can Exercise Help People to Function in Real Life? ©Katrena
How Can Exercise Help You to Enjoy Life?
You don't have to experience an injury to experience difficulties with performing daily tasks. Someone with arthritis may have difficulty opening jars, buttoning buttons, zipping zippers, walking, and extending the arm to reach objects in a cabinet. However, many exercise programs are designed with functional purposes in mind. We may twist a ball in our hands to simulate opening and closing a jar. The result is stronger wrist and finger muscles that may be able to open some of those jars. Many people have difficulty rising from a chair. Performing squats in front of a sturdy chair at the correct height can help to make getting out of a car or rising from bed easier.

Functional exercise and functional strength training does not have to be elaborate and filled with fancy gadgets. Getting on a regular walking program can improve cardiovascular endurance and folks who stick with it may find that they can comfortably walk distances that are farther than when they began the exercise program. Travelers in particular can appreciate the added mileage without being winded or feeling pain for days after a long hike to see a beautiful area.

Deep breathing exercises in which one focuses on slowing the breath while sitting up straight and then tightening abdominal muscles with the exhalation may help improve posture and lung function. An added benefit may be an improvement in intestinal function as core muscular strength improves.

Strengthening balance muscles and using a bit of common sense may help people avoid a fall. Improving flexibility with regular stretching may improve range of movement so that people can function better while driving, dressing, and enjoying life.

How to Find Successful Exercises for You ©Katrena
What is Exercise Success?

A successful exercise program, in my mind, is not measured by the amount of weight one can lift or the number of exercises one can perform. I think success can be better measured in being able to enjoy hiking a mountain in Peru or taking a walk down the block, doing hobbies with less pain, or being able to get out of bed and live a fuller life. Functional fitness does not happen overnight and requires a certain amount of commitment, but the payoff may be much more than expected.

Always consult a healthcare provider before beginning or changing an exercise program.

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