Have you stopped riding a bike, bowling or playing golf or tennis because these activities are too hard to perform? Do your muscles sometimes struggle when you’re going up the stairs? Or raising yourself up from a low chair, the toilet or the car? Do you find yourself losing your balance more often than you used to? These all are telltale signs that you need to improve your functional fitness—the ability to perform everyday tasks that use multiple muscle groups and require balance, strength and dexterity.
Although our physical capabilities naturally decline with age, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle also significantly impacts our strength and flexibility. If you have trouble carrying groceries into your home or feel winded after a short brisk walk, this decline in physical function can mean the loss of the ability to live independently as you age.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Starting a functional fitness program can improve your ability to live a full life…*
Creating Your Routine
To design your routine, start by assessing which activities you do regularly that you find challenging. Then choose from the exercises described on these pages. Start with two or three repetitions of each exercise, rest and then repeat several times, eventually working up to two to three sets of 10 or 15 repetitions. Important: Maintaining proper form and posture through each exercise is critical to its effectiveness.
These exercises require only exercise bands (buy at least two—one that is open and one that is a closed loop) and dumbbells (start with one- to three-pound weights depending on your current strength). Resistance bands normally come in sets of low-, medium- and high-resistance. Experiment to see what’s right for you. When you get comfortable, challenge yourself with more resistance, more weight and/or more repetitions.
If you have trouble going up stairs or getting up from a chair or if your legs are weak, you need to strengthen the leg and core muscles. Doing so can help to reduce the load on your knees and possibly reduce knee pain…
- Stand up tall on a nonslip surface holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides or while wearing a weighted vest. Inhale.
- As you exhale, lunge forward with your right leg while keeping your left leg stationary. Only lunge forward as far as comfortable, and be sure to keep your front knee aligned with your ankle.
- Inhale and step back to your starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides. Be sure to maintain erect posture as you do each repetition.
- Sit in a chair, and wrap an exercise band around your left foot. Hold on to both ends of the band with your elbows bent and shoulders relaxed.
- Exhale and slowly extend the left leg forward. Do not lock your knee.
- Inhale and return your leg to the starting position. Repeat, and then switch sides.
- Lean your back against a wall with your feet about 12 to 18 inches away from the wall. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides. Inhale.
- Exhale as you slide yourself down along the wall, going no farther than feels comfortable or until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Do not let your knees extend beyond your toes.
- Inhale and return to the upright position…or for greater challenge, hold for a count of five before inhaling and returning to the starting position. Keep your head straight and eyes looking forward.
Note: Skip this exercise if you have heart or blood pressure issues. Instead, try a Mini Chair Squat. Just stand in front of a chair or tall stool to hold onto for balance and only lower yourself slightly, rather than doing a full squat.
If you have trouble opening heavy doors or carrying groceries, you need to strengthen your arms and shoulders…
- Stand behind a sturdy chair or countertop. Lean forward, and place your hands on the chair back/countertop shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms fully, without locking your elbows, as you walk your legs back until your body is at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Your heels will be raised slightly. Keep your legs straight but not locked. Inhale.
- Exhale and slowly lower your chest to the chair. Keep your elbows close to your body and your torso in a straight line with your legs.
- Inhale and press your body away from the chair, fully extending your arms without locking them, returning to the starting position.
- Tie a knot in the middle of an open exercise band, and anchor it at the top of a closed door, leaving both ends hanging down. Sit in a chair or stand and reach overhead, arms straight, to grasp each end of the band at a point that will provide resistance when stretched. Inhale.
- Exhale as you pull your elbows back, bringing your hands to shoulder level. Be careful not to arch your back and to keep your shoulders down.
- Inhale. Return to starting position.
- Position a chair near a closed door. Tie the middle of an open exercise band around the doorknob leaving two long ends. Grasp an end in each hand about halfway up so you feel a comfortable level of resistance. Inhale and suck in your stomach to stabilize your back.
- Exhale and slowly pull your elbows back toward your sides. Keep your shoulder blades together throughout.
- Inhale and return to the starting position.
Bow & Arrow
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. With your left hand, grab one side of a closed-loop exercise band and extend that arm out to your side at shoulder height. Now grab the opposite side of the band with your right hand, keeping your right hand near your left shoulder and your right elbow at shoulder height. You should be positioned as though holding an archery bow.
- Inhale and stretch the band back across your chest with your right hand as if you were pulling a bow. Your right elbow will be bent, left arm extended. Keep shoulders relaxed/down.
- Exhale. Return to the starting position. Repeat and switch to the other side.
If you have trouble reaching things on high shelves, you need to stretch and strengthen the arms and shoulders…
- Stand sideways to a wall about an arm’s distance away…or stand facing it.
- Reach out to the wall. Slowly walk your fingertips up the wall as high as you can.
- Crawl your fingers down to the starting position, repeat and switch sides.
- Stand facing a wall with one arm extended touching it at shoulder level.
- Draw small circles clockwise, increasing to larger circles as feels comfortable. Repeat, and switch sides.
- Stand tall with your hands on your shoulders.
- Reach your right hand up to the ceiling, stretching as high as is comfortable.
3. Return your right hand to your shoulder, and reach up with your left hand.