BY JESSIE JONES, PHD
y now you've heard that the older population is expected to increase significantly in number and longevity. Because of this projected growth, fitness specialists throughout the world have been identifying ways to promote an active lifestyle and decrease the number of years people live with chronic disabilities. One of the most effective ways to reduce the onset of physical frailty in later years is through early detection of physical weaknesses associated with mobility problems, followed by appropriate exercise intervention. However, until recently most physical performance tests were developed to measure either the highly fit or the very frail. As a result, the tests were either too hard or too easy for most older adults (Buchner, Guralnik & Cress 1995; Spirduso 1995). The Functional Fitness Test (FFT) for Seniors was developed by researchers Roberta E. Rikli, PhD, and myself to measure the underlying physical parameters associated with functional mobility across a wide range of physical ability levels--from semifrail to highly fit (Rikli & Jones 1999a). The test items measure upper- and lower-body strength and flexibility, aerobic endurance, motor agility and dynamic balance. In addition to meeting the scientific rigors of reliability and validity, the FFT test items are quick and easy to administer and score; require minimal equipment, time and space; are safe and enjoyable for the older participant; and, in most cases, can be administered without the need for a medical release. You can use the FFT with personal training clients to establish baseline scores and again to show the progress clients have made after training with you for a given time. You can also assess participants during or outside of group fitness classes.
Why Assess Older Adults?
Assessments for Older Adults
Use t h e n e w F u n c ti onal F it n e ss T e st f o r S eni ors t o me a su r e p h ysi cal imp r o ve me n t s in your ma t u r e c lie n t s.
of chronologically age-matched peers. Also, testing at regular intervals during the fitness program can provide participants with meaningful feedback on their progress.
How to Assess Functional Fitness
According to recently developed curriculum standards in the United States, senior fitness specialists should be knowledgeable about the selection, administration and interpretation of appropriate functional fitness assessments in order to have a basis for designing appropriate activity programs (Jones & Clark 1998). In an era of accountability for health and fitness practitioners (Russek et al. 1997), assessing physical performance can help practitioners to (1) identify and predict people at risk of becoming functionally dependent, (2) identify individuals who may need special services and/or treatment, (3) obtain objective outcome data by which to document and justify program benefits and effectiveness, (4) plan more effective exercises that target physical weaknesses and (5) motivate participants to set goals to improve scores. Additionally, the five-year age-group performance standards for both men and women (see "Performance Norms" sidebar) allow your participants--and you--to compare their scores with those
January 2000 IDEA HEALTH & FITNESS SOURCE
The next sections describe each test item, the test protocols and the supplies/equipment necessary to administer and score each item. Refer to "Performance Norms" sidebar to learn how to interpret scores. The development and validation of the FFT and the development of the national norms are described in detail in articles by Rikli and Jones (1999a; 1999b). In an effort to minimize participant fatigue, it is recommended that the tests be given in the following order: 30-second chair stand, arm curl, chair sit-and-reach, back scratch, eight-foot up-and-go and sixminute walk. If you use the two-minute marching step instead of the six-minute walk, eliminate the six-minute walk and do the two-minute marching step between the arm curl and the chair sit-and-reach.
Guidelines for Testing
When administering these tests, keep in mind the following: Safety. Although the test items are generally safe for most older adults, medical clearance is recommended if (1) a physician has advised the participant not to exercise because of a medical condition, and/or
selves. Here are some reminders: (2) the participant is currently experiencand Jones 1999b). Refer to "Performance
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