Thursday, November 15, 2007

What are you fit for?

I saw this abstract that got me thinking a bit about being fit for the long haul and for the challenges of everyday life. There was a thread a while back on one of the boards I look at a lot about "Dad Fitness" developing the fitness to be ready for the challenges of being a Dad - carrying kids, sprinting when necessary, stuff like that .

This study looked at "functional fitness" in old people and it is interesting to see how they defined it or tested it at least: "FF was evaluated using a chair stand, arm curl, up and go, sit and reach, back scratch, functional reach, and 12-min walk." These are basic moves you need for everyday life - a bit like Chek's primal patterns (bend, squat, lunge, push, pull, twist and gait) but I like the back scratch being in there!

Anyway, I like thinking about this area. I am not a champion athlete. I don't need to be and I don't need to train like one. I need fitness for my life. I want to be fit, fast, versatile....but ultimately - especially as you age - it is about standing up from a chair, reaching for things, scratching your back. Sometimes - when I've hurt my back for example - these basics are not possible and it is then that - for all the discussion of high performance activity, intervals, strength and conditioning - what you miss most is these basics. If you can't do these primal patterns you are not just unfit...there is something wrong! I found this great quote about the squat as a functional movement:

There was never a time when we did not squat, and if you cannot squat, it’s not that you have decided to avoid exercise, it’s because you are ill. You can decide not to tricep extend or crunch with little ill effect; the squat is non-negotiable. Squatting is the way human beings sit down, be it to doze, duck, or defecate. It is also our initial move when lifting things from the floor, be it ourselves (otherwise known as standing up) bags of shopping, luggage, or loved ones. Practicing the proper form of squatting means we can use our muscles effectively, and is a substantial contributor to normal and elite fitness

So, what do I really need to do, what is optimal given my aims and the time I have available. I like thinking round these puzzles. I think you can use an athletes template to get the answer (if there is an answer) but you need to scale it down a bit. You can still "periodise" throw in phase of aerobic work, or balance or strength, but it is about perspective and scale.

Anyway, this study said that these old guys did best with some aerobics plus either resistance, balance or tai chi. Of course the answer would also depend on what they were testing - but overall it sounds like they picked some useful moves.

...It would be interesting to read the whole paper.

Functional Fitness Gain Varies in Older Adults Depending on Exercise Mode.
Various exercise modes are available to improve functional fitness (FF) in older adults. However, information on the comparative capability of different exercise modes to improve FF is insufficient.
PURPOSE:: To compare the effects of aerobic, resistance, flexibility, balance, and Tai Chi programs on FF in Japanese older adults.
METHODS:: FF was evaluated using a chair stand, arm curl, up and go, sit and reach, back scratch, functional reach, and 12-min walk. One hundred thirteen older adults (73 +/- 6 yr, 64 men, 49 women) volunteered for one of five exercise groups: aerobic (AER), resistance (RES), balance (BAL), flexibility (FLEX), and Tai Chi (T-CHI), or they were assigned to the wait-list control group (CON). Programs were performed for 12 wk, 2 d.wk (RES, BAL, FLEX, T-CHI) or 3 d.wk (AER), and 90 min.d.
RESULTS:: Improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness was limited to AER (16%). Improvements in upper- and lower-body strength and balance/agility were outcomes of RES, BAL, and T-CHI. RES elicited the greatest upper-body strength improvement (31%), whereas BAL produced the greatest improvement in lower-body strength (40%). Improvements in balance/agility were similar across RES (10%), BAL (10%), and T-CHI (10%). Functional reach improved similarly in AER (13%), BAL (16%), and RES (15%). There were no improvements in flexibility.
CONCLUSION:: Results suggest that a single mode with crossover effects could address multiple components of fitness. Therefore, a well-rounded exercise program may only need to consist of two types of exercise to improve the components of functional fitness. One type should be aerobic exercise, and the second type could be chosen from RES, BAL, and T-CHI.

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