Investing money for your future is important — and so is investing in your health and happiness. Many people would agree that health is the greatest wealth and that it’s not something to take for granted. While your health is not something over which you have complete control, happily, many of the choices you make — to eat well, to be active and to manage your stress, for example — can go a long way towards helping you stay healthy.

What is functional fitness?

“Functional fitness” is a bit of a buzzword. Simply put, it means being in shape to handle the tasks of everyday living with ease and without pain. We’ve all known someone who exercises regularly but who has wound up stiff, sore or injured after washing the windows or carrying in a heavy bag of groceries. It’s happened to me and it’s probably happened to you, too!

Over 15 years ago, like many new moms and dads, I found out what a lack of functional fitness means first-hand, when my daughter was born. Though I exercised regularly, my body was ill-prepared to lug a rapidly growing infant around in a car seat, let alone withstand the bending, twisting and lifting required to install and remove her seat from my car several times daily. My shoulders and neck were stiff and sore — at one point so much so that I couldn’t turn my head. I’ve since learned that the nature of my injury is very common among new parents; smart fitness clubs and personal trainers would do well to offer functional fitness training classes specifically for this group!

Exercises to promote functional fitness

Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop muscles to work together by simulating movements you might do at while participating in a favourite sport, or while at work or at home — things like hoisting car seats, carrying groceries and unloading and lifting heavy boxes.

Many trainers now recognize the value of functional fitness training and teach functional fitness exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles. For example, Flo Chapman, owner of Impact Training and Fitness in Toronto, often helps clients make efficient use of their time and ward off injury by incorporating functional fitness exercises into their programs.

“This type of training can make everyday activities easier, reduce the risk of injury and improve quality of life,” she explains. She also believes such exercises are of particular benefit to older adults eager to improve their balance, gain muscle strength and potentially reduce their risk of falls and injury. Examples include multidirectional lunges and step-ups using weights.

If you’d like to improve your functional fitness but are unsure where to start and are wondering which exercises are best for you, book a session with a personal trainer to learn the ropes. Often one session is enough to help you get started and to learn to use stability balls, a wobble board, resistance bands and handheld weights as you master helpful exercises. Happily, if you stick with a program and work towards improved functional fitness a few times a week, you should notice an improvement within a month or two.