Movement as Medicine | by
Maintaining whole-body function and balance keeps Coloradans active, on their feet
For Patsy Botts, it was relieving severe pain without having to undergo major surgery. For David Wolf, it was getting back on the tennis court after a herniated disc sidelined him in his 40s. For both Denver residents, their unexpected reasons for turning to functional-fitness programs, which are becoming increasingly popular, led them to a better quality of life.
Baby boomers are gravitating toward similar untraditional exercise programs for many reasons, whether it’s preparing for surgery, recovering from an injury, or simply wanting to function better at daily tasks. “People are becoming more aware that we need to move our bodies in different ways,” says Kelly Devereux, a personal trainer at Greenwood Athletic Club. “We don’t just work out to be a certain weight. We need to be able to rotate our body, walk up steps, and get clothes out of the dryer without hurting ourselves.”
Today’s functional, restorative, and corrective exercise programs, including physical and occupational therapy and rehabilitation, target specific areas of the body to improve strength, function, balance, mobility, and stability through age-appropriate exercises. The workouts, ranked within 2014’s top-10 fitness trends by the American College of Sports Medicine, are nothing like yesterday’s high-school gym class.
From resistance bands and pulley-system weights to stability balls and balance discs, fitness tools in functional-focused programs are varied. “Foam rolling for muscle release is huge,” Devereux says. “It’s a great tool people can use at home on a daily basis for issues like low back, hamstring, and IT band tightness,” she says, (see sidebox).
“I can’t tell you how many people I see in their 40s and 50s still exercising like they did when they were in their 20s ̶ and it’s just not working,” says Eric Krell, a physical therapist at Rocky Mountain Spine and Sport Physical Therapy. The tissues in our tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joints naturally become less viable as we age ̶ and at a time when maintaining strength and sense of balance to prevent injuries, falls, and hospitalizations becomes even more crucial.
Just do it
“A lot of people eat healthy to help prevent their risk of heart disease and cancer,” Krell says. “But when it comes to physical activity, it often takes an injury to wake someone up.” Most of the issues that bring boomers through Krell’s doors happened gradually, such as from spending too much time sitting at a desk.
Being proactive with functional-fitness work is ideal, says Dr. Megan Press, an Internist at Aspen Medical Group. “If we can get your muscles stronger and keep them stronger, and improve stability and gait earlier on, we can ward off some potentially devastating events and complications down the road,” Press says
Functional fitness does just what its name says: It keeps people functional and injury-free, Devereux says. “Things like stiffer joints are part of the normal aging process, but if you quit moving and don’t try to offset those conditions, it gets worse. People sometimes don’t want to move because it’s uncomfortable, but that’s exactly what your body needs.”
Road to wellness
Functional-fitness programs can also help post-surgical patients dramatically, Press says. “People underestimate the value of physical rehabilitation and do not appreciate how much a surgery and/or a chronic illness can lead to general deconditioning in the muscles—and how quickly that can happen,” she says. “For every one day a patient lays in bed, they need three days of rehab to get their strength back.”
For Botts, the neurologist-recommended approach to warding off surgery for a spinal disorder worked. Devereux put her on a program that included stretches, core-strengthening work, and yoga-like exercises, not only keeping Botts out of the operating room, but also leading to a more active lifestyle, including regular tennis, biking and skiing.
Wolf says Devereux’s restorative exercise routine, which he does regularly, not only got him back on the court, but improved his game. “Most people go to a gym, get on a cardio machine, and lift some weights like they did when they were young. What’s unique about this method is that it targets specific muscles that need strength in order to increase mobility and functionality in whatever area that you’re having problems with—but it’s a lifestyle change and you have to stay on top if it.”
Functional fitness techniques include:
- Dynamic warm-ups
- Bodyweight exercises
- Gradual resistance and strength training
- Rotation and extension exercises
- Circuit training
- Balance work
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