The Most Important Exercise as We Get Older

Strength training is important for all age groups, but as we age we naturally lose muscle mass. We should work all major muscle groups at least twice per week.

If I had to choose only one exercise, it would be a squat. Our ability to squat has the most impact on our day-to-day living, from going to the washroom to getting in the vehicle. Any time we get up or down, a squat is involved. If we aren’t able to squat easily, then life can begin to feel like a struggle.

Squats strengthen all the major muscle groups in our legs and also our lower back and core. Not only do squats help us with getting up and down, they improve our balance, help prevent falls, and protect the joints in the knees and hips.

Strong legs have been shown to be an important link to longevity. In one study, our ability to sit on the floor and then get up without using our hands or knees could predict mortality. In another study following healthy adults age 70 and older over six years found those with greater quadricep strength had a lower risk of early death.

One of the best things about the squat is that we can work on it anywhere, at any time. If you would like to start practicing yours, try the following two or three times a week:

1. Pick a spot-find a steady surface like the kitchen counter or table and pull up a chair. Place your hands on the surface and your feet shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward.

2. Lower into the squat- as if you were going to sit in the chair but do not sit! Take your time to make sure your weight is evenly distributed onto both feet.  Ideally you should be able to wiggle your toes as the weight should be mostly in your heels.

3. Repeat- The goal will be to repeat this 8-10 times for 2 rounds. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. Two seconds down and two seconds up. Try not to let yourself hunch over and keep your knees separated.

4.  If and when you feel strong enough, try the squat without touching anything for balance. Try holding your arms out parallel with palms up as you lower and drop your arms to your sides as your rise up.

5. Once it becomes easy enough to do 15 repetitions for 2 rounds without feeling muscle soreness the next day or so, it is time to add some weight! Holding a pair of dumbbells is the easiest way to do this.  Start with the low weights and build up.

Author: Marilyn Alvarado, Wellness Director MRMC Wellness and Rehabilitation