SAN DIEGO -- Functional fitness programming works for older adults, and most of them see real-world benefits relatively quickly, according to a study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, upon the request of ACE, examined physical improvements associated with functional training.

Led by John Porcari, Ph.D., FACSM, the researchers recruited 48 volunteers, who ranged in age from 58 to 78 years old. All had some form of cardiac, metabolic or orthopedic condition and all were already participating in the university’s La Crosse Exercise and Health Program. Each subject was randomly assigned to either the experimental group (which would do functional exercise) or the control group (which would stick with a traditional exercise program of walking and aerobic dance).

“The focus was on exercising several muscles and joints together rather than working a particular muscle or group of muscles in isolation,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD., FACSM, chief science officer for ACE. “Incorporating functional strength training into an exercise program will help improve balance, agility, dynamic flexibility, strength and endurance to enhance older adults’ abilities to safely and effectively perform their various activities of daily living.”

Those who went through the functional fitness training showed greater physical improvements than those who did not. Improvements were seen in lower-body strength (13 percent improvement), upper-body strength (14 percent), cardiorespiratory endurance (7 percent), agility/dynamic balance (13 percent) and shoulder flexibility (43 percent).

The experimental group participated in functional exercise sessions three times a week for four consecutive weeks. Each session included a circuit of 12 functional exercises, including moves such as wall push-ups, lunge and chop, and squat with diagonal reach.

For a complete copy of the study and workout, visit http://www.acefitness.org/getfit/studies/FunctionFitness.pdf.

To aid the growing older adult population, ACE recently teamed with the American Association for Retired People (AARP) to offer exclusive personal training discounts to its more than 39 million members.