It’s February, and the enthusiasm for the New Year’s resolution to exercise more (or to begin to exercise at all) may have already waned. Perhaps rethinking the goal for exercising will spark a new dedication to the means to reach that goal. I submit that the only reason to exercise regularly is so you can live your unique life better. Period. The desired number on a scale, a waist band, a dress tag, or a cholesterol report is not the goal, although good numbers in these areas will be a by-product of reaching the goal to live your best life.
The only way to live your best life is to maintain and/or increase your physical functionality in the activities that make up your everyday life. Improving quality of life is the focus of functional fitness workouts. According to a staff-written article on the Mayo Clinic website, these “…exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of basketball with your kids. Functional fitness exercises train your muscles to work together and prepare them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work or in sports.”
Participants in the group exercise classes I lead at ADBC, Inc. Fitness Studio in Troy, Tennessee often share stories of how their ability to perform tasks in their life have improved due to their regular strength and cardio workouts. One woman reported she was able to retrieve her boxes of Christmas decorations from an overhead storage space herself this past holiday season. In past years, she had had to wait for her grown son to do it for her. Another participant said that she noticed how she was able to pick up a shipment of tools at her job with no problem now.
The Mayo Clinic website article describes a functional fitness routine. “While using various muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time, functional fitness exercises also emphasize core stability. For example, a squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when you rise up and down from a chair or pick up low objects. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well in a variety of common situations.”
Different people have different activities they desire to do well. It may be safely picking up a child, or keeping one’s spine stable and linear while sitting at a desk, or excelling at a favorite sport.
Lorraine Gossett, director of Baptist Memorial Hospital’s Health Quest Center for Wellness in Union City, said she pointed out to seniors in the class she used to lead what day-to-day tasks a particular exercise would help them accomplish. She would say, “I don’t just want you to stretch. I want you to be able to reach items on your top shelf.” She would explain that building quad strength would make getting up from a chair easier and squats would help them pick up a grandchild.
Lisa Jandreau, manager of SNAP Fitness in Union City, shared how her members are using the facility to build or maintain functionality. “Golfers use the treadmills in the winter so they will be ready for walking the courses in spring,” she said. “Mostly I hear our members comment that they have more energy.” Increased energy can only enhance one’s functionality in whatever their day to day activities entail.
Ritchie Brawley, a certified personal trainer and exercise class instructor at The Sideline in Martin, said he tells his clients and class participants, “Move better — feel better.” In his experience, most people who start exercising have the goal of weight loss, but after exercising regularly for a period of time their goals change as they begin to feel better and see improvements in their functionality. Some have moved from being a non-exerciser wanting to lose weight to setting the goal of running a marathon and reaching that goal. He said people who take his cardio/strength interval class for a while often make the comment, “I can’t believe I can do that now!” They may be referring to lifting a certain weight, reaching a cardio benchmark, or having the increased flexibility to touch their toes. All of these achievements translate into their being able to do their life better, even the mundane tasks of loading and unloading groceries or bending over and tying their shoes.
Jessica Mulcahy, a co-owner of Raise the Bar gym in Fulton, Kentucky, said many of her members are exercising to increase physical activity because their jobs are primarily sedentary and they desire to be healthy. Others, such as area policemen and firefighters are exercising so they will stay physically fit enough to do their jobs well. Student athletes are all about functionality in their sport. They use the gym to maintain or build their strength and cardio levels during their sport’s off-season.
Make building the physical ability to live your unique best life your goal for 2016. The benefits of better numbers on blood lab reports, clothing tags, and the scales, as well as lowered stress, improved mental sharpness, increased energy, and greater independence will be a great return on the time invested in regular functional exercise workouts.