Fitness isn’t just about getting in shape and looking good, it is about staying functional throughout your life – feeling healthy, active and independent.

As people get older, they become more sedentary, said Steve Feyrer-Melk, Director of Patient Wellness at Optimal Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center. “You are getting older and your body needs more activity as you get older.”

Over the years, bodies change – from muscle mass to metabolism, endurance and flexibility. It is important to put time aside for exercise, even if it is small bouts of activity throughout the day, Feyrer-Melk said (who goes by Dr. Steve in his practice).

Exercise is all about quality of life. It can help reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, Feyrer-Melk said. Physical activity is beneficial for cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance, and flexibility.

Cardiovascular fitness, simply put, is the “ability for heart and lung to work together.” While muscular strength and endurance means “being able to move your muscles at maximal force,” Feyrer-Melk said.

Using your muscles is vital for a functional lifestyle. “When you have higher muscular strength, higher muscular endurance, you can function better,” Feyrer-Melk said. “Your productivity goes up, your quality of life goes up.

Every person is different; “there is no right way to become physically active and physically fit,” Feyrer-Melk said. People can do a walking program with intervals, bicycle outdoors or indoors, use exercise bands, go to the gym or even try classes like CrossFit or Orangetheory Fitness.

In May, Core CrossFit, McKinley and 9th St., started a Masters Class for people 40 and over. It is a CrossFit based program focusing on functional movement, said Kim Flores, owner of Core.

The purpose of the program was to create a safe exercise class for people who are aging.  “Once people hit that age demographic of 40, 45 and 50, their body has a lot of natural wear and tear,” Flores said.

Programming for the class scales a CrossFit exercise, emphasizing warm-ups, stretching, range of movement and mobility. Instead of lifting maximum weight, a Masters athlete uses a challenging weight with more repetitions, Flores said.

As an athlete ages it is important to recognize when a movement is incorrect. It will impact them more than it would a younger athlete, said Somone Johnson, Core general manager.

If the functional movements are performed well in class, they will help people with every day life, Johnson said.

Johnson said she wants to give the Masters athletes “decades of great movement.”  When they are grocery shopping or picking something up, they will remember and recruit the right muscles to move safely.

“Just because an athlete is aging doesn’t mean that they can’t have a really fulfilling, athletic life,” Johnson said. It is never too late to work on your fitness.

Paul Brown, 59 this August, has been maintaining his fitness since he was in high school. He played sports, then went into law enforcement and worked to stay in shape. After retiring Brown admits that he didn’t always stay in the best of shape, however he has worked out at private gyms, with personal trainers and now at Orangetheory Fitness.

Working out at Orangetheory six days a week, Brown said he has developed a relationship with the exercise group and trainers.

Everyone encourages each other, Brown said. “They don’t push a person into injury or passed what they have the ability to do. They’d rather you build up over time, little by little.” Working out in a group atmosphere makes you push yourself harder than you normally would.

“Fitness is slowly developing into functional training,” said Marshall Swerdfeger, an Orangetheory Fitness trainer. It is about living a long healthy life. One where you can play with your grandkids, climb a ladder or pick up a heavy laundry basket without hurting yourself.

The exercises done in class may not be realistic in life, but they are realistic to life, Swerdfeger said.

Both Orangetheory Fitness and CrossFit work to increase cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance through interval training, Feyrer-Melk said. The exercises programs incorporate core, balance and muscle.

The most important thing to remember when you start working out is not to be afraid or think, “I can’t do this.” People are worried about going to exercise classes because they think they are too high intensity, but that isn’t necessarily the case, Feyrer-Melk said.

Trainers are there to keep an eye on people and scale movements if necessary. Feyrer-Melk recommends taking small steps, starting out easy and making sure that activity matches abilities.

If CrossFit or Orangetheory isn’t for you, that’s okay. Figure out what you like to do and tailor it to getting the health benefits, Feyrer-Melk said.

They key is to value your health and your quality of life as you age. As Feyrer-Melk put it, “our bodies are wonderful machines that want to survive.”