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In a previous blog post I recommended doing squats just before meals as a great exercise for weight loss. In this post, I am going to review studies which report that your leg strength is one of the most reliable predictors of your longevity and the quality of your life as you age. And, doing squats regularly is the BEST exercise to build your leg strength.
In one study, 81 elderly patients were followed for a period of 4 years. By the end of the study, 26 people (32%) of the participants had died. The researchers discovered that the mass of an individual’s thigh muscle was inversely proportional to cardiovascular deaths and all-cause mortality. In other words, larger thigh muscle mass equates to reduced risk of death (Fukasawa H, et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;71(1):64-69).
Another study evaluated muscle mass, leg strength and fat mass in 1,280 men and women 55 and older. The results of this study revealed that your leg strength is the most important factor in determining your physical functionality and your risk of dying (Bourhard DR, et al. J Aging Health, 2011 March;23(2):313-328).
So, why is increasing strength and muscle mass by doing squats so effective at reducing risk of death from all causes, improving your health and achieving life extension? Squats build muscle mass and strength in the largest muscles in your body, the gluts and quads in your thighs and butt. This in turn improves insulin sensitivity and helps regulate blood glucose and blood insulin levels.
Building strength and muscle mass in your thighs also improves your metabolic rate which means you burn more calories and store less fat. This is why I strongly encourage everyone to engage in some form of strength building exercise on a regular basis. A session of weightlifting or other type of resistance exercise results in “after burn” which refers to the fact that more calories are burned during the recovery period after the workout than are burned during the actual workout session.
Other benefits achieved from building leg strength include improving testosterone levels, lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increasing bone density in the hip and thigh bones.
Numerous studies report that falls are the number one reason for admissions to nursing homes and also a leading cause of death in the elderly.
Squats are by far the best exercise to strengthen the largest muscles in your body, specifically your quads, gluts in your buttocks and the muscles in your hip and knee joints.
Strong Legs = Healthy Brain: In one study, 162 sets of healthy female twins between the ages of 43 to 73 were followed for ten years. Cognitive functions such as learning and memory were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study. The brains of a subset of identical twins also assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers reported that leg strength was a better predictor of brain health than any of the other lifestyle factors evaluated in the study. In fact, leg strength was a reliable predictor of both cognitive aging and the degree of loss of total gray matter in the brain. (Steves CJ, et al. Gerontology. 2016;62(2):138-49).
BIOMARKERS: A book that changed my life. In Biomarkers, the authors show that ten of the most reliable biological markers of aging are ALL directly related to and regulated by muscle mass. regardless of your age or present physical condition, the aging process can be slowed -- or even reversed! (Biomarkers; Evans & Rosenthal. 1991;Fireside/Simon & Schuster).
YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD: In one study, Evans and his colleagues examined the effects of high intensity, progressive resistance training in a group of frail, institutionalized elderly men and women aged 87-96. After only 8 weeks of strength training, the subjects in this trial increased their muscle strength by 174% and they increased the cross-sectional area (ie. size) of quadriceps by 10%. (Evans. J Nutr. May 1, 1997;127(5):9985-10035).
ALMOST UNBELIEVABLE: In another study, men aged 60-72 engages in strength exercises with their legs. They used a weight that was 80% of their 1-Rep Max and exercised 3 times a week for 12 weeks. The gains these men made in just 12 weeks were amazing. The average increase in knee flexor strength was 227%, the average increase in knee extensor strength was 107%, and CT scans documented an average 11.5% increase in leg muscle mass. (Frontera WR, et al. J Appl Physiol. 1988 March;64(3):1038-44).
HOW TO DO A PROPER SQUAT: Stand so that your knees are slightly bent, feet are firmly planted on the ground, and toes pointed outwards slightly, which helps with stabilization. The wider you put your feet, the more it works your glutes and hamstring (back of the leg), and the easier it will be to stabilize. As you begin to squat, your butt begins to move back and stick out. Attempt to keep your chest and shoulders upright, keep facing forward with eyes focused straight ahead and keep your back straight.
For individuals who less fit, I recommend that you brace yourself with the back of a chair, a counter-top or a pair of door knobs for balance. As you gain in strength, start doing your squats with hand weights to increase resistance.
That’s it folks. Do squats for strength, improved health and cognitive function and life extension.