Fitness Over 50: Why Functional Fitness, Not Muscle Building, Will Help You Live Better, Longer

Fit Over 50: Why Functional Fitness, Not Muscle Building, Will Help You Live Better, Longer

David Schutz

If you’re like me, when you turned 50, you started thinking about the second half of your life. Those thoughts may have ranged to retirement, financial planning, where you’ll live out your years, your bucket list… These days, life expectancy is increasing, so at 50, you’re on the second half of your life. How are you planning for that journey? Are you doing everything you can to be able enjoy all those items on your bucket list? It’s more than just saving the money. You have to physically train for the second half of your life, if you’re going to get the most out of it.

Why, you ask? The sad fact is, that according to researchers at Duke University’s School of Medicine, by the time you reach your 50s, physical decline begins, including strength, balance and endurance, and worsens as we age, especially for those who don't exercise.

So if you think about it, what good will your second half of life be, if you planned for it financially, but you aren’t physically capable of playing with your grandchildren? Do you want to see the world from a car window, or get out and enjoy it? Don’t you want to live a fully functional life, with the ability to go where you want to, do what you want to do, without physical limitations?

If you’re like most people, the answer to this question is “yes,” and the good news is there’s something you can (and should) do about it, starting now. This is the time to plan for your life physically, just as you’ve planned financially. Having a plan, with active attention and diligent execution, for your health and fitness is more important than ever before. What’s the good news? The payoff is great, short and long-term. You invested your money in your retirement. Now it’s time to invest your time and energy into your retirement. And physical fitness is a great investment.

So what do you do? The simple truth, born out by research, is that getting “pumped up” isn’t the answer. Stronger is not always better! Traditional muscle-isolation type resistance exercise programs will significantly improve strength but will probably NOT significantly improve physical function. The fact is, Functional Fitness (or Functional Strength) Training, with its emphasis on whole body movement exercises that imitate or replicate “real life” movements, is the approach to fitness that will have you moving, feeling, and looking better, and help you develop the kind of fitness that is useful for life, rather than isolated muscle strength, which is for show.

This means focusing on whole body strength training, posture correction, balance and stability, all of which promote fitness relevant to everyday movements, like dealing with groceries, playing with your kids or grandkids, moving a load of dirt around the yard and trimming the trees, to hiking or biking that mountain!Make your second half awesome! Most people hit their 50’s generally able-bodied and healthy, but not really in the best shape. If this describes you, you have a lot to gain from even just beginning functional strength training, from how it will make you feel to how you statistically improve your odds of living better, longer.

And right now, in your 50s, it is easier for you to maximize those gains than it will ever be again in your life. In fact, unless you were an elite athlete when you were younger, you could actually bring yourself into being in the best shape of you life. And more importantly, by making fitness a habit, just as you made regular investing a habit, you can have great, physically capable, second half of life.

The time is NOW to maximize your physical fitness gains. Why? You have everything it takes:

  • Adequate muscle mass to begin
  • Balance and coordination
  • The ability to change your posture, strength and flexibility
  • The ability to work out very effectively

You’ll still have these at 65, but less so.   And a good bit less so at 75.

So why NOW?

Without a strategic exercise plan, each year that you get older your functional ability decreases, so activities like gardening, playing with grandchildren and even picking up a piece of paper off the floor get more difficult.

Muscle mass, balance, coordination, the ability to change your posture, increase your strength and flexibility, and your ability to work out are easier to maintain than they are to recover.

And the good news is that if you will really get after it, putting in the recommended 3-5 hours per week, you can become stronger, and able to do more things in your 50s and beyond that you may not have been able to do even in your 30s and 40s.

But the fact is, you have to get after it, and you have to get after it NOW.

You have to drop the excuses: I don’t like to. I don’t know how. I don’t have the time. Come on, we all know those irritating people that are just as busy as we are, but they make the time to work out anyway. You can too.

And the good news is that it’s relatively easy to get started in functional fitness training, which will improve your whole body strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. Overall, there are 7 Principles of Functional Fitness training you should focus on:

  1. Train ALL components of function
  2. Be purposeful
  3. Train in all 3 planes
  4. Train movements before muscles
  5. Stand up, stay up
  6. Complicated first, simple last
  7. Be safe to be successful

I encourage you to learn more here. This training is GREAT!

The good news is that through functional fitness/strength training you can very effectively address all three areas (while also getting your cardiovascular exercise in) in as little as 2.5 hours per week.

Yes, you read that right.

The current science about health and fitness, including this study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that several hours per week of combined vigorous or intense aerobic activity combined with muscle strength training is a sufficient base for maintaining and improving your physical fitness.

As Nike says, Just Do It!

9 thoughts on “Fitness Over 50: Why Functional Fitness, Not Muscle Building, Will Help You Live Better, Longer”

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