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Functional Fitness for the Frail Elderly

 By Johanna “Jo” Booy, CPCA, MES

Functional Fitness

Good health practices of our youth and adult life will generally take us into old age with stronger bone density, a healthier cardio vascular system, better balance and even increased cognitive function. This is a good thing, because on average longevity has increased 5-10 years. Fitness centres are being set up across North America to cater to the senior client. It’s no wonder as the fastest growing generation of baby boomers is reaching their senior years and for the next 15 years will occupy a great chunk of the senior fitness market. The greatest challenge the MES will face is working with the frail senior with multiple medical conditions.

It is very important that you first of all perform a detailed medical history account of your senior. Ask to see their medications, know side effects and reactions and understand that your senior may have side effects directly related to the intensity of exercise combined with medications he or she may be taking. Seek medical clearance from their physician and/or gerontologist. Ask them specifically about medical conditions you feel may be a challenge for your senior and if there is anything that is contraindicated for this client. For the senior with multi

ple conditions, it is key that if you aren’t sure what to do, at the very least know what you must not do that might cause further exacerbation of their medical condition.

Frail SeniorYour frail senior may not be able to attend at the gym. An in-home program is an excellent choice and is being encouraged by both the health care community, physiotherapists, physicians, and fitness centres as a viable option for regular exercise conditioning. A portable exercise kit may consist of:

  • Bands
  • Small weights
  • Door pulley
  • Step up block

An exercise program incorporating the same components as you would at the gym, may be incorporated into the in-home program namely:

  • Cardiovascular conditioning
  • Stretching
  • Strength exercises

Medical_Exercise_Client_PicThe goal is to increase flexibility and mobility, keep or build on the strength they have and to maintain that function for as long as possible. The combination strength of biceps/triceps, quadriceps and core muscles will assist your senior wit

h the ability to rise from a chair, or bed, and sit with control. Some in-home programs are completely chair based incorporating all the exercise components above and can be very effective in not only maintaining strength but increasing it.


Functional strengthening is key to your senior living independently. The ability to perform activities of daily living such as transferring, dressing, toileting, eating, bathing, and ambulating are dependent upon maintaining a certain level of strength. Check in with your senior often, ask them how they are doing, offer reassurance and encouragement. The rewards are great as you see your frail senior not only maintain a level of fitness, but attain greater strength and balance, flexibility and mobility to age in place longer – living in the home they love!

Functional Fitness for the Frail Elderly


Johanna “Jo” Booy, is the Director of Care & Company Ltd., and is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) and Medical Exercise Specialist (MES). She provides comprehensive care management and coordination services to seniors in Victoria. You may reach Jo at

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