by Jacquelyn J. Core JD PhD

A balanced workout provides you with your best chance at optimized functional movement. What is functional movement? It is the most important thing to body health… the ability to do what you need and want to do. Everything from loading the groceries into and out of the trunk to walking the beach on vacation is included in our functional movement. To optimize these diverse movements we need to work on cardiovascular fitness and endurance, strength, stability, flexibility, and balance. It seems like common sense that your workout, like most things in life, should be balanced. But, as much as I love it, there are things that my Apple Watch is not telling me.

If you own an Apple watch, then you may (like me) nearly compulsively check your fitness rings. These rings are meant to allow us to track our movement patterns, how much we raise our heart rate enough to truly be exercising, as well as whether we are standing enough in our sedentary world. But what isn’t the Watch telling me? Beyond my steps, cardio, and hours spent standing at least part of the time, our bodies have other needs. The tracking on which some of us so closely rely as we faithfully count steps, calories, minutes of exercise, and a myriad of other fitness metrics does not always account for everything that is necessary to achieve the optimal functional movement required to make our lives easy and pain free.

The missing elements? Strength, stability, balance, and flexibility. These elements are not as easily measured. They do not lend themselves to tracking and metrics, and so we often overlook their importance.

Strength

The International Osteoporosis Foundation tells us that “osteoporosis and low bone mass are currently estimated to be a major public health threat for almost 44 million U.S. women and men aged 50 and older.” What’s more, “the great majority of individuals at high risk (possibly 80%), who have already had at least one osteoporotic fracture, are neither identified nor treated.” https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics

However, we also know that physical activity and fitness, particularly strength training, reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fracture and fall-related injuries. But many people who exercise diligently do little to build strength, instead choosing only to focus on cardio. Including at least some weight bearing activity is key to building strength and reducing injury. As we age we experience muscle loss. Weight bearing exercise can help us retain the strength we need to reduce the risk of injury.

Stability

You cannot build upper and lower body strength until you have stability. The ability to stabilize your body is essential before you begin weight bearing exercise. Core strength helps us stabilize our bodies so that we can build strength elsewhere in them. Stability also prevents injuries and helps our bodies guard themselves against outside forces. Failure to build core strength is a mistake. The six pack abs so many people desire are muscles meant to keep your insides…well…inside. Society may think they look great, but in reality they do little (if anything) to provide you with core strength.

Balance

According to the CDC, more than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States and 20% to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. Reduced balance increases the risk of falls. How do you know if you have good balance? You can assess your own balance by timing how long you can stand on one foot with your other foot suspended above the floor. Disappointed in your results? The good news is that you can train yourself to have better balance. Increasing core strength also results in better balance, and practice makes perfect.

The more you practice balancing the better you will get.

Flexibility

Increasing your flexibility will decrease your pain. Many people who come to Pilates at the YMCA for the first time lack core strength and flexibility. Many have nagging low back pain caused by, among other things, a lack of flexibility. Stretching (including breathing through your stretches) can help improve flexibility and decrease pain. Mobility is increased with flexibility.

Hyperflexibility can be a problem, because it can lead to a lack of critical stability necessary to support the body in weight bearing and it can increase the risk of injury. Each person should strive to find the best of both worlds, building flexibility and stability simultaneously to optimize their movement.

We all tend to become habituated to our daily routine. If we sit, our body gets used to sitting. If we walk, our body gets used to walking. If we move, our body gets used to moving. To cultivate, strength, endurance and cardiovascular health, flexibility and mobility, and balance, we must habituate ourselves to a workout that challenges us in all these ways.

As much as I would not trade my Apple Watch willingly, I know it only tells me so much. An Apple Watch, Fitbit, step tracker, or app can be a valuable part of your overall fitness, but it should be one component of the whole picture. For holistic physical health we should be asking:

1. What am I doing for cardiovascular health, fitness, and endurance?
2. What am I doing to maintain or increase strength?
3. What am I doing to maintain or increase stability?
4. What am I doing to maintain or increase flexibility?
5. What am I doing to maintain or increase balance?

Moving in diverse ways helps us to balance our workout for the best functional movement.