Functional fitness has become a popular exercise trend and for good reason. Rather than fancy gym-style movements that isolate one muscle group at a time, functional fitness routines work the entire body in ways that mirror real life. This type of exercise is generally appropriate for everyone, regardless of age or current physical condition. And it helps prepare you for what you do every day. EHE Health’s resident Medical Director Dr. Safdar shares the benefits of functional fitness and its advantages to your everyday life.

What is functional fitness?

According to the National Institute on Aging, there are four basic types of exercise:

  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Strength

Functional fitness offers a solid mix of all four types. But instead of gym equipment, it uses your own body weight to focus on such movements as bending, lunging, pushing, pulling, lifting and rotation – all the ways you move your body as you go about your daily life. Incorporating these into your daily routines can dramatically boost your physical and mental health while lowering your risk of falls or other injuries.

This is the key to functional fitness. In real life, you don’t run on a treadmill. You run after your dog. You don’t lift weights. You lift grocery bags. Functional fitness ensures you are prepared for whatever might come your way, from reaching for something on the top shelf to dodging a falling tree branch. Reinforcing the movement patterns of daily living ensures that your muscles and joints are strong, ready, and able to work together at a moment’s notice.

Benefits of functional fitness

Functional fitness offers some tremendous benefits over other types of exercise. These include:

  • Full-body workouts. In functional fitness, nothing is done in isolation. You’ll reap benefits in all of your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system from every workout.
  • All four types of exercise. You won’t need to worry about ensuring you have the correct ratio of balance vs. strength exercises. Functional fitness routines include all of the recommended types of exercise.
  • Motivation and goal achievement. Functional fitness is endlessly customizable. You can set a goal of sitting on the floor more comfortably to play with your kids and make active progress in each session. When you hit one goal, move on to the next.
  • Injury prevention. So many injuries occur because the body isn’t prepared for a sharp, sudden movement. Functional fitness reduces muscle imbalances and teaches your body to incorporate these movements safely.
  • Meeting you where you are. Everyone starts with a different level of fitness. You might be incredibly flexible but not very strong. Or you might have arthritis in a specific joint or an underlying medical condition such as chronic fatigue. Or maybe you’re a top athlete in a particular sport. Functional fitness can meet you where you are today and grow with you as you become fitter. The routines may look very different, but this exercise is equally appropriate for a teenage football player or a grandmother with a bad hip.

Of course, as with any exercise program, it’s best to consult your doctor before trying functional fitness. This is especially true if you have any underlying conditions. Your doctor can let you know if there are any exercises you should avoid and help you decide what to focus on. You may also want to consult a physical therapist or personal trainer for a few sessions, especially if you haven’t exercised much recently.