By Kara Palley, MA, CPT
I recently attended an interactive workshop on senior fitness to better serve this important, unique and growing population. Imagine my surprise when the instructor told us: “Leg strength is where it’s at. The rest is commentary. Google it.” I thought wow, I just learned the entire field of senior fitness—the longer you can stand on one foot, the better!
Confession: I’ve taken a few liberties here. This isn’t an exact quote from the Hillel of fitness professionals. But my instructor did let me in on one of the best-kept secrets in the health and wellness field. A secret I am happy to share with you today. The key to long life is in your hands because it is right in your very own legs! Even better, you don’t have to look or train like an Olympic bodybuilder to live longer.
Until recently the prevailing wisdom in the medical community held that exercise leads to better health outcomes. While a direct link between exercise and longevity could not be made, the indirect links were compelling enough. First and foremost, increasing balance, coordination and strength reduces the risk of falls, one of the leading causes of permanent disability and death in the United States. Exercise can also cause delays in the onset of age-related brain deterioration. Active lifestyles improve heart function and foster growth in bone density. The hormones released during exercise can stave off or reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, a particular concern among seniors. Regular workouts also build confidence, stimulate a healthy appetite and promote deep and restful sleep.
The science is settled! There is a direct link between exercise and longer life thanks to several new studies*. The same basic conclusion was reached in each: changes in body composition (the ratio of muscle power to body weight), particularly lower body strength, are a key factor in determining mortality.
After obtaining medical clearance, the best bet for seniors is to join a gym. The fitness professionals there will design an appropriate, safe, goal-oriented, progressive and fun training program.
Leg strength is the key to longevity. The rest is commentary. I can’t wait to go study!
By Kara Palley, MA, CPT
*The studies: In each, the risk of illness increased and mortality was closer for those whose legs were weaker, regardless of muscle mass.
Gama Filho University, Rio de Janeiro (2102) — 2002 adults aged 51 to 80 were followed for an average of 6.3 years. At the beginning of the study they were given a simple leg-strength test: Sit down on the floor and then get up, using the least amount of support from hands, knees or other body parts.
Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University (2010, 2012) — Men over 55 with peripheral arterial disease were given a series of leg-strength tests.
Kings College, London (2015) — The cognitive function of 324 healthy female twins between the ages of 43 to 73 were studied for a decade.
Health ABC (2006) – Over 2,000 participants, male and female, between the ages of 70 and 79 were given a variety of strength tests over time, including quadriceps.