I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up!

07/27/2016 07:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are you physically fit? And what kind of fit are you? More importantly, what kind of fit do you want to be? Nothing short of your future independence is riding on how you answer.

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I recently had the honor of delivering the opening keynote at the 2016 Functional Aging Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. The Summit attracted personal trainers and fitness professionals from around the world who specialize in working with an older clientele. All came to talk about active longevity, functional fitness, and the unprecedented demand for their services. (You know the numbers by now. 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every single day and that's creating the fastest-growing client base in the world.)
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When it comes to achieving and maintaining an active lifestyle as we age, functional fitness is the Holy Grail.

Functional fitness is not about sculpting a bikini body or building biceps and welcoming others to "the gun show." It's about creating the kind of strength, flexibility and mobility that allows us to live active, independent lives for as long as possible. It's about reducing the risk of injury and preventing the epidemic of falling.

Statistics from the National Council on Aging and the CDC reveal that falls are now the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among people 65 and older. More than one-third of all adults ages 65 years and older suffers a significant fall each year. And the risk continues to grow each year. More than half of all 80-year-olds suffer a serious fall annually and two-thirds of those will fall again within six months. Here's the really frightening statistic: after the age of 65, 40 percent of all people admitted to nursing homes due to a fall never return to independent living. A serious fall after age 65 is for many, quite literally, the beginning of the end.

The good news is that multiple studies prove that older adults who engage in the right kind of exercise are not only less likely to fall, they are significantly less likely to be seriously injured if they do fall.

The right kind of exercise is functional fitness. Functional fitness is a program that mimics the activities of daily life. It's about range of motion, muscle stability, balance, endurance, cognition, proprioception and flexibility. It's fitness focused on living well as opposed to simply looking good.

Functional fitness not only prevents falls and reduces injuries; it provides the foundation upon which later-in-life adventure is built. If you want to travel into your 90s, compete in masters sports, climb mountains, dance the night away or play with your grandkids and great grandkids, a functional fitness program is essential.

Many gyms and retirement and assisted living communities now offer functional fitness programs. And a rapidly growing number of trainers like those I met in Phoenix are now specializing in the needs of an older clientele. It's where the action is in the fitness industry.

To accommodate this exploding need, the Functional Aging Institute (FAI) began training, testing and certifying trainers in 2013. FAI trainers are now available worldwide, offering proven, innovative, science-based programs specifically designed for older clients.

Dan Ritchie, PhD., co-founder and President of FAI says, "The benefits of functional fitness are life-changing but you can't do it on your own. Join a gym, take a class or find a trainer. There is no better feeling than stopping the physical decline and actually improving strength, endurance and agility. It opens up a while new world of possibility."
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Cody Sipe, PhD., co-founder and vice-president of FAI adds, "The hardest step is always the first one. Where do I begin? How can I be sure that I'm doing the right kind of exercise? What if I get injured? The best place to start is with an FAI certified trainer who can provide a safe, proven pathway to getting healthy for the rest of your life."

And don't say, "it's too late for me." A large study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows those who first took up exercise at retirement age were three times more likely to remain healthy over the next eight years than their sedentary peers and significantly reduced their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and depression.

So ask yourself if you're a debilitating, independence-ending fall waiting to happen or a life-affirming adventure waiting to unfold. The difference could be a functional fitness program. Sure, another program might help you look pretty good with your bikini body and six-pack abs but if you've fallen and can't get up, what good are they?

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