Functional Fitness at Fifty

Corban, Stacey and I
A great day – playing on the same rugby team as my son

It’s Monday, and it’s my first day back after an 8-day summer trip. It wasn’t a vacation; far from it. Nine teenagers and three adults spent the week working at a summer camp for kids with special needs. It was a challenging, enriching, emotional experience. And in the midst of the trip,  I found myself grateful for the fact that at 50 I’m fit enough to participate 100% in a journey like this.

What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional Fitness” is a term you hear a lot if you spend much time reading fitness articles or listening to fitness podcasts. It’s the idea that you should be able to perform the physical acts your body is required to do.  It might be something as simple as reaching up to take a book off a shelf, or as difficult as picking up a heavy box off the floor where you work.

Obviously, athletes or people who perform physically demanding jobs have higher fitness requirements. A smart athlete is going to train regularly in a way that keeps him fit. A worker with a demanding job is going to stay fit by regularly performing the actions required by his job.

As we get older, our fitness requirements seem to get lower and lower, and we succumb to the lie that says that guys “our age” can’t perform at a certain level. Or, we’re stupid enough to think that we’re still “functionally fit” enough to perform, when we haven’t put in the work. Then we get hurt. A couple of years ago I went on one of these trips with a guy in his mid-30’s. We were working at an orphanage in Mexico, painting, cutting trees, laying cement. He pulled a muscle in his back the first day and was out of order for the rest of the week.

What You Miss When You’re Not Fit at 50

Life’s not over at 50. When you settle and believe the lie, you miss out on a rich life. Here’s what I got to do last week:

  • I was able to maneuver kids to/from wheelchairs who couldn’t give me any help.
  • I played kickball, basketball and touch-rugby with my teen-aged sons and their friends after a long day of working at camp.
  • I held a paralyzed pre-teen girl in my arms for nearly 30 minutes allowing her to jump at a trampoline park. Note: I’m not sure I’ve ever been as physically tired, but her excitement made every minute worth it.
  • I spent an afternoon swimming with my kids at a local river. We swam across the (admittedly small) river several times together, enjoying a great summer day.
  • I white water rafted for a day at the Ocoee River.

I was pleasantly tired at the end of each day, even a little sore, since I don’t go rafting or jump on trampolines often. But I was able to participate fully. I returned home intact, with no back injuries or hamstring pulls. I was useful to the staff and kids at the special needs camp. And I had a great time with my kids.

Start by Dreaming

Instead of settling for “I’m too old”, set some goals. Dream of what you’d like to do, or what you miss doing. Start with asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to do with your kids? Play a game of pickup after work? Go canoeing?
  • What would you like to do with your wife? Take a hiking trip? Maybe go on long walks at night, without getting winded? Have better sex? (Hey, we’re guys here, right?)
  • What do you miss? Would you like to play on a softball team again? Would it be fun to build something outside, or work on your car? Maybe you were a runner in high school, and you’d like to do it again?

You don’t have to miss out. Set a goal to be functionally fit, to perform at the level that allows you to enjoy the life you dream of. List one of your goals, below, or tell us why you’re happy that you’re already functionally fit at fifty.

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