On Your Health

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Aging with Agility Through Functional Fitness

When we think about fitness, many of us think about two main things: increasing or maintaining our cardiovascular stamina and our overall muscle mass and strength. Those are excellent priorities, but adding something called “functional fitness” into your exercise mix yields its own unique set of  healthy aging benefits.

Some of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise are weight loss, better sleep, feeling less stressed, temporary relief from depression and anxiety, increased bone density and lower risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

Strength training can increase muscle mass and strength, raise your metabolism, reduce the symptoms of diabetes, back pain, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, help maintain good balance and improve glucose control.

Functional fitness can include elements of strength training and cardiovascular fitness, but its focus is specifically to maintain or improve the quality of your life as you age. The idea is to train your muscles to make it easier and safer to carry on with everyday activities: putting groceries away, climbing stairs, getting up from the floor, carrying things, reaching and making sure you stay steady on your feet by improving balance. Functional fitness incorporates movement of both the upper and lower body at the same time, and also emphasizes core stability.

“It’s just like it sounds,” says Cathy L. Patterson, INTEGRIS Wellness & Senior Services Manager. “We encourage activity that keeps you physically able to do everyday things. Put your dishes away, get your groceries, garden or play with your grandkids.”

The main components of functional fitness activities are meant to help you maintain or increase your range of motion, balance and muscle endurance. “We use a lot of resistance bands in our classes,” Patterson says. “The bottom line is that if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Stretching is important, particularly for senior men, who tend to be less flexible than their female counterparts. “Stretching means being able to look over your shoulder. We need to do that to drive safely,” Patterson says.

The INTEGRIS Senior Fit Club offers classes at several metro locations designed to keep people fitter and more flexible as long as possible. The program is funded in part by a grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation’s Wellness Initiative.

All of the classes are easily adapted for varying levels of ability and fitness. Chair fitness classes are a great first foray, especially for people who have not been active or who are de-conditioned.

“I promise, you won’t feel self-conscious if you decide to try a class,” Patterson says. “We’ve got people in wheelchairs, people with walkers and canes and those who suffer from arthritis. It’s a truly supportive class environment, and it’s a good opportunity for social interaction.”

Members of the INTEGRIS Senior Fit Club are also evaluated every six months. “We check in on blood pressure, A1C levels, height and weight, and waist circumference.”

Other classes include standing fitness classes and the festive Zumba Gold class, a modified version of the popular dance workout class Zumba. Modifications make the class lower intensity, with an emphasis on balance, range of motion and coordination.

“This is the deal. We are living longer. 60 is the new 40. We’ve all got to take better care of ourselves so we can live healthier as well as longer,” Patterson says.

Staying mentally fit is another category of functional fitness that can’t be neglected. “The crucial components of functional fitness are cardiovascular health, strength, muscle endurance, body composition and neuromotor function. Exercising your brain-to-muscle connection by watching the instructor, processing what he or she is doing and mimicking it are great for brain health and mental fitness,” she says.

The INTEGRIS Community Wellness Initiative offers classes designed to increase physical and mental functional fitness at Crossings Community Center, 10255 N. Penn on Mondays and Wednesdays; INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center, 4200 S. Douglas Ave.,  on Mondays and Wednesdays; and Will Rogers Senior Center, 3400 NW 36th ST on Fridays. The complete schedule is available here

For more information please call the INTEGRIS Third Age Life Center at 405-717-9812.

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