How Does Functional Fitness Impact Longevity?

Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine can help prevent chronic diseases and lead to a longer and healthier life. While many people associate exercise with activities that increase heart rate, such as walking or running, it is important to include strength training exercises as you age to maintain an independent and active lifestyle.

Key takeaways:

What is functional fitness?

Functional fitness exercises help your muscles work together, preparing you for everyday tasks. Functional fitness exercises stimulate common movements that you do at home, work, or in sports. Functional fitness works upper and lower body muscles simultaneously while emphasizing core stability. When you train your muscles to work during everyday tasks, your body moves more efficiently in common tasks.

These exercises can be done at home or the gym. Fitness classes may be available at some gyms as many boot camps and other fitness classes incorporate functional fitness exercises into their classes. Fitness balls, kettlebells, and weights may be used for functional fitness exercises. However, many functional fitness exercises require no equipment.

Benefits of functional fitness

Functional fitness has been shown to promote better:

  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility

Studies have shown that muscle strength starts to decrease around age 30 and then accelerates after age 60. This significantly increases the risk of falls and other injuries. When incorporating functional exercises into workout routines, studies indicate a significant indirect effect of physical activity and age on older adults' balance and physical function. While strength still decreases with age, it does so at a slower rate when performing functional exercises.

Balance also improves with functional exercise, creating better functional performances with fewer functional limitations later in life.

Functional training can also improve back, muscle, or joint pain. Combining muscular strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness helps increase core muscular strength, which supports the spine. Improved flexibility increases the range of motion in muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which improves functional movement. Aerobic exercise also increases blood flow and nutrients to soft tissues in the back and joints, improving the healing process and reducing the stiffness that can result in pain.

Incorporating functional fitness exercises into your workout routine has also been shown to help develop strong bones, manage weight, enhance the quality of life, manage chronic conditions, and sharpen thinking skills.

Examples of functional fitness exercises

Multiple joints and muscles are used simultaneously while doing functional fitness exercises. Examples of functional fitness exercises include:

  • Deadlift
  • Jump squat
  • Push-up
  • Kettlebell swing
  • Plank
  • Assisted lunge with press
  • Walking lunges
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Bear crawl
  • Resisted squat with overhead press

These exercises require less equipment and intensity than training programs like CrossFit. In addition, functional fitness exercises focus on performance, not muscle size, which helps reduce the risk of injury.

The ideal amount of functional fitness

If you have a chronic condition or are over 40, check with your healthcare provider before beginning a functional fitness program. You should also warm up and stretch before working out to prevent injury. If you are new to functional fitness exercises, slowly and gradually increase the weight or exercise intensity.

Research shows that 12–15 repetitions of proper weight can help build muscle and is as effective as three sets of the same exercise. If you exercise to the point of fatigue — where you can’t do another repetition — you are exercising hard enough to build muscle.

Experts recommend doing functional fitness exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice per week. Aerobic exercise can also be incorporated into your workout routine with at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercises per week.

It's best to rest one day between exercising each muscle group but listen to your body. If specific exercises are causing pain, stop and consider modifying your routine by reducing the weight or intensity. If the pain has not resolved within a few days, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

Furthermore, proper technique when doing functional fitness exercises is essential to avoid injury. Therefore, you may consider working with a trainer or fitness specialist to learn the proper technique to prevent injury.

Functional fitness exercises can help improve daily life by strengthening muscles you use routinely for regular activities. This form of strength training can be done using only body weight and is safer for people.

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