Fitness Articles

What You Need to Know About Fitness After 60

6 Functional Fitness Assessments You Can Do at Home

By Dean Anderson, Fitness Expert         
Page 1 of 3
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

  • THANKS for posting this older adults fitness assessment-- very encouraging!!! I'm 64, and have really been MUCH more active in my last 10 years than perhaps any time in my life-- and I can out just FINE all areas tested (generally beating the *men's* high average score-- when they were better-- and I'm a woman ;-) ). Very *affirming* that all my SparkPeople encouraged exercise is paying off in verifiable ways ;-). - 12/27/2015 6:37:31 PM
    Thanks MAMAKITTEH1. Looks like a great program. Anyone interested in checking out the "Functional Fitness" concept go to their website and then to Amazon. Their book "Never Grow Old" is available for Kindle for $2.73 with a link in the book to download a pdf of photos of all the exercises they recommend. The link is the one that says register the book but it just goes to a download link that doesn't ask for any info. Quick and inexpensive way to check out the program. - 10/30/2015 11:01:49 AM
  • First, thanks to mammakitteh1 for the recommended web site, which I plan to check out. I echo her response of thanks for attention to us older demographic! Thanks for another really good post. - 10/16/2015 10:49:29 AM
    Thanks for the great post and for addressing us often overlooked "baby boomers"! I recently discovered an online program called The Functional Fitness Solution. This is seriously one of the most user-friendly and comprehensive programs I've seen that addresses fitness and the aging population. It's created by two medical experts in exercise, aging and functional longevity and is loaded with all the detailed information and tools you need to develop your own personalized program. If anyone's interested in exploring functional fitness and it's many benefits in more depth, this amazing program is definitely worth a look. You can find more info here:
    - 10/4/2015 7:40:18 PM
  • Loved this article and it is so timely. I have to give a talk to my DAR in September... many don't exercise at all and there is so much to share with them including this article. Thanks for your Article ! - 8/19/2015 4:01:51 PM
  • I am going to be 64 this year and I am in better health and shape then I have ever been!
    I also weigh the lowest I have as an adult.
    I am continually working on improving my health because I intend on being around for a long time to come. I started running at age 53 and ran my first marathon 2 years later and have since run twelve plus countless other distances.
    Keeping healthy and fit is a lifestyle worth adopting!! - 7/4/2015 6:00:29 PM
    Since turning 60 I have gone full-blown with a daily isometrics routine, developing static muscle contractions which give maximum results for a modest amount of effort. Now in the older part of life I am perhaps in the best physical shape I have been since my youth.
    /p/pPWAyD - 1/12/2015 8:28:25 PM
  • 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

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