Fitness isn’t all tight booties, ripped abs, and Michelle Obama arms. It’s actually more to do with your overall physical health and ability. It’s what made us springy, bendy, and boundlessly energetic when we were young, and what is gradually lost as we age if we don’t keep moving.
The things we do on our most mundane days require even a modest level of fitness to complete. Walking. Reaching. Sitting. Standing. Leaning. Turning to look. Picking up a baby. Raising arms to put on a shirt. It all requires that our musculoskeletal system be healthy, strong...fit. This is functional fitness, and none of it requires a gym membership, a 7-day-a-week rigid training schedule, a hard body, nor even much interest in exercise.
There are exercises … functional movements … you should adopt as part of your daily routine to maintain and improve your overall functional fitness.
Something as simple as dropping to sit on the floor and getting back up again will actually improve your mortality (i.e. you’ll live longer). The greater your ability could mean as much as a 21% improvement in survival. So simple right? But if you haven’t done it in a while… if you’ve couch potatoed and desk squatted without any real movement for so long that those muscles decided they weren’t needed anymore… it’s going to be a painful trick to get down there.
These functional movements do two things for your body:
Dr. Kathryn Schmitz, a leading exercise oncology researcher at Penn State and Immediate Past President at the ACSM, shared her list of go-to exercises we need to do every day to maintain and boost our functional fitness.
“We push all the time and don’t even realize it,” she said. Pushing a grocery cart, a door open, a stroller, a table at a restaurant...it’s all functional movement that depends on upper body and core strength. She notices when her 25-pound dog gets to be to heavy to lift up to the bed, “it’s time to drop and give myself 20.”
Our “sit and stand” muscles are also something we use all the time and just don’t think about. This exercise will work your entire lower body, every muscle in your legs, and give some love to your core, too.
Don’t want to be a weeble wobble… or worse one that actually falls over? Schmitz reminds that if you’re not using those “bend over and pick up” muscles properly, you’re going to hurt your back. Every time you lean down to pick up something you’re going to struggle to reach, strain yourself, and maybe even fall. This weight training requires a dumbbell at the gym (spotted if you’re new to this), but can also be achieved at home with a resistance band or kettlebell after proper instruction.
In Schmitz’s former personal trainer days, her older clients would always say their goal was to “get down on the floor and play with my grandkids.” Well, lunges will help them get there. And if you’re not old enough to have kids or grandkids yet, the lunges will support the motion required to kneel...something you do a lot more often than you think you do.
Our body collects little and big stresses all day long for myriad reasons. “The stress is held in our minds and bodies. Even a little yoga a day will help release it,” shared Brendon Payne, a certified yoga instructor at SequelLife.com. Once that stress is gone, our muscles are open and free to provide the flexibility and movement we need to do something as simple as open a cupboard, shave our legs, or tuck in a kid.
As little as a 10 minute walk each day can have tremendous health benefits that go beyond just the functional fitness gains (strength, balance, flexibility, endurance...to name a few). It’s one of the single best exercises any of us, at any age, can commit to on a daily basis. There’s no learning curve, requires no equipment (an Enell Lite covers it), and is accessible virtually anywhere you are. And remember...you don’t need a whopping 10,000 steps after all!