At this time of year, people are packing the gyms as a penance to the holiday overindulgence. After all exercise is touted as the panacea for all that ails you. This short term effort and view are not what maximizing the best benefit from exercise. Functional fitness is really the long term goal of exercise.

I treaded home in the snow off the bus after a day at work. I came to the end of our driveway and sighed. There was a 2 foot high bank of slush that generously left by the plow. Welcome to a Canadian winter. Shoveling is an activity which binds us all… and results in muscle pain, injuries and even heart attacks.

The temperature was starting to dip into past freezing. Unless I wanted a huge hunk of ice, I needed to clear that slush pile immediately. I changed and went at clearing my driveway. It was 30 minutes of grunting and groaning to push, shove, lift and throw the slush on the snowbank.

The next day I felt fine. That is in part because I made sure that I had proper form in pushing, shoving, lifting and throwing the slush. But also because I exercise on a regular basis to train for just such an event.

I perform my daily yoga practice so that at 58 years, I can do my chores; whether that be shoveling snow from the driveway or dirt in the garden. I do not aim to bend into advanced poses or train for an Olympic length triathlon (already did that in 1994). I target my physical exercise so that I can achieve the activity level I want. This is the essence of functional fitness — to be able to fully participate in your daily life activities.

Yet as we see at this time of year, multitudes flock to the gym as penance to their holiday indulgence. They are hoping to sweat it out in “boot-camps” and “cross-fit” programs towards a better health regime. All they really end up with are sore muscles, injuries that prevent them from continuing and disappointment.

The short term view of intense exercise is not the panacea for your health issues. Your body probably can’t take the shock. It takes time to adapt your shape to a new activity level. You need to be kind to yourself and take a long term perspective. Don’t be a weekend warrior who debilitates themselves. Weekend warriors like some who play intense hockey and nothing else during the week end up with heart attacks. Why do you think Automatic External Defibrillators were installed in hockey arenas first?

This time of year also sees many of us set goals. Your exercise goal is to be functionally fit. Be kind and realistic to yourself. Look at what activities you would like to do easily. Then set up an appropriate and consistent exercise routine so that you can achieve that. You will be pleased at the result when in May you start digging in your garden and your body does not scream in protest the next day.

Originally published at on January 5, 2017.

Originally published at