It’s easy to think of aging as a steady decline. But fitness proves it doesn’t have to be that simple and dreadful. If you exercise regularly, you’re more likely to maintain physical abilities. Period. So think of it as a sliding scale –with physical dependence at one end and being an elite athlete on the other. Nobody wants to be physically dependent, of course. And while most of us don’t aspire to be an elite athlete, everybody wants something in the broad middle there. We want to be fit so we can stay independent and avoid becoming frail for as long as possible. So let’s consider the fitness spectrum for most people after 50. Use it as the “sliding scale” to see where you currently fit –and where you’d like to be.
The Sliding Scale
Here’s how the Functional Aging Institute breaks down the stages, with broad direction on how people in each group can benefit from exercise. It’s a good structure to begin a discussion.
Description: The most healthy and functional folks, regular exercisers probably involved in recreational sports. They have advanced physical abilities and love working hard at their fitness.
Outlook: “Given their advanced physical abilities, there is really no limit on what they can do in a training session,” says FAI’s Cody Sipe.
Description: Fit in the area they train but possibly deficient in other areas. Maybe a strong runner has low strength, or a strong man has poor flexibility. There’s such a big range here that FAI notes the distinction between “fully fit” and “semi-fit.”
Outlook: “They need a heavier focus on the specific areas in which they are deficient,” Cody says.
Description: Can perform daily tasks but don’t participate in any vigorous activities. This is the largest category, and some mature adults get trapped in complacency here. But that can lull them into a dangerous place, where one fall or injury can knock them down to “frail” or “dependent” status.
Outlook: “This group needs a well-rounded mix with a focus on increasingly complex movements and those that challenge dynamic balance.”
Description: Low functional abilities in most or all aspects –strength, poor balance, energy, etc. These folks need help performing everyday tasks.
Outlook: “They require an emphasis on basic strength and power exercises, as well as basic gait and mobility patterns. Balance movements should be more static and performed with caution because they have a high-risk of falling.
Description: Require specialized one-on-one assistance and not candidates for training.
Everyone is different what do you think? Which of these might apply to you? Would you like to maintain your spot on the spectrum or advance? We are here to help you get or stay fit by your own definition, for your own purposes. That can include anything from running triathlons to gardening, from playing with the grandkids to feeling confident in daily tasks. Let’s get you enjoying life on your own terms for as long as possible.
Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.