What is the best type of exercise you can do for your health? The answer seems to change every week. Lately, many fitness enthusiasts and influencers have been talking about the importance of “functional fitness”—especially for people in their 20s and 30s who want to stay mobile and ready for anything as they age.
Functional fitness has actually been in and out of the top ten global fitness trends since 2016. Although there are many posts and videos online telling people what the best functional fitness exercises are, in reality, many (or even most) exercises can be done in a way that is functional.
More important is the result of the exercise. If this results in becoming as physically fit as possible and ready for anything in life – whether it’s moving furniture, climbing a mountain or running after your child – this can be considered functional fitness.
When you think about this result, you can understand why it is difficult to define a specific list of movements or exercises that are considered functional fitness. Because anything that builds some form of fitness that helps you live life can be considered “functional” – including strength, cardio, agility and flexibility.
So you can lift weights to build strength, bike to build cardio, sprints to build flexibility, and calisthenics to build flexibility. Or you can combine all of these exercises into one workout by completing designated functional fitness programs such as CrossFit(R), Hyrox, or F45.
Improving all forms of physical movement is why many say functional fitness exercise programs are the best exercise you can do. Increasing your overall fitness can also potentially keep you physically fit and independent well into old age.
We don’t have a lot of research on the specific benefits of functional fitness over and above other sports because it’s still a fairly new field. But we can get an idea of what benefits it can have by looking at the effect that combining different types of exercise can have versus simply doing those exercises alone.
Strength training, for example, helps build strength in muscles, bones and connective tissue. This can help you maintain your ability to move independently into old age.
Cardio (or “conditioning”), on the other hand, can have a greater effect on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which can make us healthier in the face of illness.
So both have both different and common benefits, which is why it’s often considered important to include both in your weekly workout routine. This is one reason why functional fitness training that incorporates both is beneficial.
But if functional fitness exercise programs aren’t your thing, a number of other sports and activities could obviously help you get functionally fit.
Take rugby for example. These players train to be strong, but also quick, agile and have the stamina to play for an 80-minute match. Or ice hockey, where the players again have to be fast, powerful and able to maintain a high intensity in the game. Or obstacle races where people run long distances – using strength, power, skill and agility to overcome obstacles in their path.
Another way you can build your strength, agility, balance and other aspects of functional fitness is by combining different sports and exercises. For example, you can choose to run but also do rhythmic gymnastics a few days a week. Or maybe do vigorous training during the week and play soccer on the weekends.
So while functional fitness programs are one way to incorporate strength, conditioning and other physical skills into your training, they are not the only way. Combining many different types of exercise into your regular exercise regimen can also help you achieve the benefits of functional fitness. And given that we each have different genetics, bodies, lifestyles, and training preferences, the type of exercise that best helps you achieve functional fitness can vary from person to person.
The biggest improvements in health and fitness will usually come from consistent exercise. So at the end of the day, doing exercise that you enjoy and that fits into your daily routine is likely to have the most benefit.
Sinead Roberts, Lecturer in Sports and Fitness Nutrition, University of Westminster
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.