Fitness Articles

What You Need to Know About Fitness After 60

6 Functional Fitness Assessments You Can Do at Home

If you’re 60 or older, you’ve probably grown up with the idea that the transition from middle age into “senior citizen” status means slowing down. “Take it easy–you’re not as young as you used to be.” How many times have you heard that advice? If you’re like me, you probably say it to yourself whenever your post-exercise aches and pains seem a little worse than usual.

It certainly seems like a lot of middle-aged (and older) Americans have heeded this advice–and taken it too far, in many cases. Surveys show that only 32 percent of adults 65 and older follow a regular exercise plan, and for those aged 45-64, the number is even lower: 30 percent.

It turns out that this is a prescription for trouble.

We know now that the physical decline associated with aging is not simply the result of getting older. In many respects, it’s a product of becoming less active as we age. In other words, it’s not aging that forces us to take it easy, it’s taking it too easy that makes aging more debilitating than it needs to be. The human body is much better at repairing and maintaining itself when you keep it well conditioned through a program of regular physical activity, exercise, and good nutrition. This doesn’t change when you move into old age—in fact, the old adage “use it or lose it” is probably more true when you’re in your 60s and beyond than when you’re in your 40s. Slacking off on healthy habits (like regular exercise and good nutrition) is the primary factor in age-related problems like excessive muscle loss, deteriorating bone density, declines in strength and aerobic fitness, and increased difficulties with balance and flexibility.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to say that a 60-year-old who starts exercising and eating well can expect to go out and win athletic competitions against the 20-something crowd. And I’m not encouraging you to jump up off the couch and start training for the Boston Marathon if you haven’t run in 30 years. Wear and tear does have its effects, and we aren’t designed to keep on going forever like the Energizer Bunny–40 may be the new 30, but 60 is never going to be the new 25.

I am saying that, with a little bit of well-planned effort, you can make your “declining years” a lot less about declining, and more about staying functionally fit enough to do what you want to do and enjoy yourself in the process.

Start Right Where You Are
If you’ve remained active and continued to exercise through middle age, you probably know your body well enough to recognize your strengths, your natural limitations, and the areas where you should improve to better function in your daily life. But if it’s been a while since you’ve done much exercise or regular physical activity, or you’re not sure if certain problems you’re having are “normal,” it’s vital to start with a good assessment of where you are right now. That will be your foundation for putting together an effective exercise and activity plan.

The Senior Functional Fitness Test
These self-tests are not a substitute for medical evaluation and clearance for exercise, especially if you experience any pain, weakness, or difficulty with any of these activities. So, be sure to check in with your doctor and get yourself cleared before starting any exercise program. These six self-test assessments and age-related performance comparisons have been adapted from the Senior Fitness Test Manual, ©1999 R.E. Rikli and C.J. Jones.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I'm 59, and not quite there but had a stroke on Halloween 2013 with a brain bleed. I have some deficits, including balance and a right hand/arm that shakes, but I still do the walking I can (even though I've been doing it for months I still can't do what I did a year ago. The balance issue when walking wears me out faster) I do my stretching exercises daily and strength training 3 time a week. When I was in a couple of different hospitals, I told medical personnel what I had been doing before the stroke and all of them told me that those things helped me to have much more limited problems than if I had been doing nothing. I also worked with "senior" citizens for many years and saw amazing people doing all kinds of things in their 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and even one that was 100! And the Senior Olympic events are awesome, local, state, and national. The usual but also bike racing, field and track, swimming, and a lot more events for people of all ages over 50. I loved it! Stay active no matter what your age! - 8/17/2014 12:13:41 PM
  • Great article and advice!!!
    I started taking it serious @ 67 and do a 5k now and then. Exercise on a daily basis and feel great.
    Wish I had considered this sooner!!
    - 8/17/2014 11:02:44 AM
  • Strength training since 1978, walking, bicycling, spin class, step, elliptical, a good attitude and the will and motivation to be healthy--that's how I stay fit after 60. - 5/19/2014 1:37:58 PM
  • I am not at that age yet but I will save it. I think I am going to print it out and keep it. - 12/19/2013 5:49:59 PM
  • What a wonderfully useful article! Details, reasons, measures, and altogether sensible talk. Thank you for this. - 12/8/2013 10:02:42 PM
    Dean, I am 67, have had 8 bypasses, 8 stents and three heart attacks in past 30 years. I am pretty much sedentary because of bad circulation in both legs. I am also a brittle diabetic on insulin pump. I need to lose about 30 pounds and regain strength in legs. Can you help me figure out what to do? I appreciate your help and time.
    Dayne - 11/1/2013 8:27:41 PM
  • How can I bookmark this article on Sparkpeople? I want to return to it frequently. - 7/31/2013 9:30:49 AM
  • How can I bookmark this article on Sparkpeople? I want to return to it frequently. - 7/31/2013 9:30:44 AM
  • How can I bookmark this article on Sparkpeople? I want to return to it frequently. - 7/31/2013 9:30:43 AM
  • How can I bookmark this article on Sparkpeople? I want to return to it frequently. - 7/31/2013 9:30:42 AM
  • How can I bookmark this article on Sparkpeople? I want to return to it frequently. - 7/31/2013 9:28:51 AM
  • On the back scratch test, I could touch fingers on one side, not so good on the other, I would think that this is normal in people. It would be nice if they would improve this article by telling people how to improve on these items.

    I found the link that was supposed to give me info to be a link for info from arkansas and it contained more links, ad infinitum.

    I really dislike articles that say what you should be able to do without giving you the path to get there!
    - 7/13/2013 4:17:48 PM
  • chair stand, knee to marker, shoulder reach, weight lift. I flunked.Yikes...b
    ut I can walk and stretch Yeah. Boy have I got work to do. Thanx - 4/22/2013 12:09:34 PM
  • I kind of got hung-up on the 65+ year-olds being more likely to exercise than the 45-64 year-olds, then the obvious answer hit me--retirement, blessed, glorious retirement!
    Did pretty good on the assessment, but failed the shoulder flexibility test, gosh darn it, but only on the left side. However, considering the number of injuries these poor shoulders have been through in 64-years.... - 12/4/2012 1:47:44 PM
    Hi all. I'm new to the site. I too am over 60 and I have made some great lifestyle changes. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle is very attainable after 60. I made some changes to my diet and started to exercise and this helped me avoid having to go on medications to reverse my unhealthy condition. In the process I lost weight and I now have more energy. I am no starting my own blog. http://65andalive and http://65andalive
    .net Its amazing what are bodies can do. - 8/30/2012 8:00:55 PM
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