Not everyone excels at sports or aspires to be a competitive athlete, but most of us would like to remain functionally fit well into our later years. There are various definitions of functional fitness, but the common focus is on preparing your body so you can engage in real-world activities. For example, you may enjoy lifting weights in the gym, but what is the practical application of this skill? For older adults, it may translate into something as simple but as important as being able to lift your grocery bags out of the shopping cart.
When you’re functionally fit, you have adequate strength, endurance and flexibility to engage in common everyday tasks safely and independently without pain, discomfort, injury or undue fatigue. A sedentary lifestyle or health issues may lead to a significant loss in functional fitness, which may result in an inability to perform some tasks, an avoidance of some previously enjoyed activities or even an increase in your risk for premature loss of physical independence. Some studies on aging suggest that 40 to 50 per cent of people over the age of 65 have some difficulty with activities necessary for daily living. You should discuss any noticeable changes in your fitness with your doctor to rule out medical causes.
The Functional Fitness Test, also known as the Senior Fitness Test, was developed in 1999 by Roberta Rikli, dean of the College of Health and Human Development at California State University, Fullerton, and Jessie Jones, a professor of Health Science at California State University, Fullerton. This battery of six tests is considered by some experts on aging to be the gold standard for functional fitness assessment in older adults. The performance norms are based on more than 7,000 American adults between 60 and 94. Due to space limitations, I’m going to describe a subset of the tests to help you get an estimate of your functional fitness level for your gender and age group. It’s helpful to have a partner time, count and record your scores.
Chair Stands: Measures lower body strength. Place an armless chair against a wall. Sit in the middle of the chair without leaning back. Cross your arms against your chest. Stand up and sit down as many times as you can in 30 seconds.
Here are the norms for WOMEN by age group: 60-64: 15; 65-69: 15; 70-74: 14; 75-79: 13; 80-84: 12; 85-89: 11; 90-94: 9. The norms for MEN by age group: 60-64: 17; 65-69: 16; 70-74: 15; 75-79: 14; 80-84: 13; 85-89: 11; 90-94: 9.
Arm Curls: Measures upper body strength. Do as many bicep curls as you can with your dominant arm in 30 seconds with full range of motion (curl all the way up and lower your arm all the way down). Men use an eight-pound dumbbell. Women use a five-pound dumbbell.
Here are the norms for WOMEN by age group: 60-64: 17; 65-69: 17; 70-74: 16; 75-79: 15; 80-84: 14; 85-89: 13; 90-94: 11. The norms for MEN by age group: 60-64: 19; 65-69: 18; 70-74: 17; 75-79: 16; 80-84: 15; 85-89: 13; 90-94: 11.
Six-Minute Walk: Measures your endurance. Measure the distance in yards that you can walk in six minutes.
Here are the norms for WOMEN by age group: 60-64: 625; 65-69: 605; 70-74: 580; 75-79: 550; 80-84: 510; 85-89: 460; 90-94: 400. The norms for MEN by age group: 60-64: 680; 65-69: 650; 70-74: 620; 75-79: 580; 80-84: 530; 85-89: 470; 90-94: 400.
Up and Go: Measures speed, agility and balance. Sit on a chair. When your partner says “go,” get up and walk briskly to a spot marked on the floor eight feet away, then walk back as quickly as you can and sit down. Using a stopwatch, your partner will time you to the nearest 10th of a second.
Here are the norms for WOMEN by age group: 60-64: 5.0; 65-69: 5.3; 70-74: 5.6; 75-79: 6.0; 80-84: 6.5; 85-89: 7.1; 90-94: 8.0. The norms for MEN by age group: 60-64: 4.8; 65-69: 5.1; 70-74: 5.5; 75-79: 5.9; 80-84: 6.4; 85-89: 7.1; 90-94: 8.0.
You can read about all of the tests in more detail at http://tinyurl.com/njhafc9.
If you weren’t able to complete a test as described or you scored below normal, consider it your opportunity to improve. A fitness professional can help you target your weaknesses with appropriate exercises. You may be able to slow the rate of decline and even improve your functional fitness regardless of your age.