A study reported functional training and traditional training exercise routines improved strength and agility in aging women when compared to stretching alone.  The study provided evidence functional and traditional training regimens combated deleterious effects which come with aging.

Image from de Resende-Neto et al. (2019)

Researchers in Brazil showed functional exercise routines (exercises requiring coordination) were superior to traditional exercise routines (exercises using machines and free weights) and stretching routines in improving lower-body strength, cardiorespiratory capacity, and quality of movement patterns in active, elderly women.

Aging consisted of physiological, biochemical, and morphological changes to the body that ultimately lead to the inability to adapt to the environment.  Decreased muscle contractility and functional capacity resulted in aging. Thus, aged people have often undergone falls and succumbed to infectious processes, along with other complications.

Aged individuals have undergone surgical and pharmacological interventions to prevent these natural declines.  Many times, these interventions could have been avoided with physical exercise. Previous studies of exercise therapy in the aging population have shown marked improvements regarding the reduced incidence of falls, improved gait ability, better balance, and increased muscle strength.  These studies of exercise therapy included traditional training (machine-based exercises) and functional training (stimulating the psychobiological system in an integral manner). Research had not yet shown the effectiveness of these training methods in the elderly population. Thus, the study tested how these training methods affected body composition and physical fitness in physically active older women.

In the study, physically active older women were separated into three groups for two 12-week training periods with eight weeks between training periods.  The first group went through functional training and ended with traditional training, the second group went through traditional training and ended with functional training, and the third group went through a stretching regimen.  At the end of the training regimens, body composition along with strength and agility were measured.

The study found compared to the stretching group, the two other groups that went through functional and traditional training regimens had increased physical fitness and improved quality of movement patterns.  When comparing traditional training with functional training exercise regimens, only functional training showed increased strength in lower limbs, better cardiorespiratory capacity, and better quality of movement patterns compared to the stretching group.  The scientists of this study found no difference in body composition variables between any of the groups. The body composition variables included body mass index (kg/m2), fat percentage, lean mass (kg), and basal metabolic rate.

According to evidence from this study, functional and traditional training had efficacy in improving physical fitness in daily activities.  When looking at both training regimens separately, the data suggested that functional training improved lower-body strength, cardiorespiratory capacity, and quality of movement patterns better than traditional training.  Of note, measurements of muscle quality and body composition did not reveal differences between experimental groups of physically active aged women, which could have related to lack of diet control during the experiment, among other confounding variables.  Previous studies had provided evidence muscle quality could improve with exercise regimens similar to functional training and traditional training.

Instability and change of direction that functional training provided, coupled with adaptations of muscle power from traditional training, constituted an effective integration of these methods for reducing falls and facilitating greater independence in daily activities for aged women.  The functional training could stimulate receptors in the body related to balance (proprioceptive receptors), and the muscle power that traditional training gave contributed to balance as well. The traditional training, functional training, and stretch training regimens all contributed to improved range of motion, which could also help with independence in daily living activities.

The study showed strength exercise programs contributed to improvements in range of motion, balance, and muscle strength in physically active elderly women.  In fact, the evidence provided supported the premise that exercise training regimens had importance in combating a disease that comes with aging. It also appeared that functional training was a better choice for starting a health-promoting exercise program in comparison to traditional training; functional training provided faster adaptation.

The work and researchers of this study were supported with a scholarship from the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).