The Stronger You Stand: Leg Strength and Aging Independence

Brianna Musco
May 9, 2024

As we journey through life, maintaining our independence and physical ability becomes increasingly important. While many factors contribute to overall health, the strength of our legs plays a pivotal role in determining our level of independence. In this blog post, we'll delve into the correlation between leg strength and its impact on physical ability and independence as we age.

The Aging Process and Loss of Leg Strength

Unfortunately, as we age, our muscles naturally undergo a process known as sarcopenia, where they gradually lose mass and strength. This decline in muscle mass can be exacerbated by factors such as sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, and certain medical conditions. Consequently, many older adults experience a significant decrease in leg strength, leading to difficulties in mobility and increased risk of falls and injuries.

The Importance of Leg Strength for Independence: The Research

Strong leg muscles allow us to perform daily activities independently, reducing our reliance on assistance from others. Whether it's walking to the convenience store, getting up from a chair, or navigating uneven surfaces, adequate leg strength enables us to remain active and engaged in the world around us.

Research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2015) found a significant association between lower extremity muscle strength and functional independence in older adults. The study concluded that greater leg strength was independently associated with better physical function and reduced risk of disability.

A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2018) examined the effects of resistance training on muscle size and strength in older adults. The analysis revealed that resistance training interventions led to significant increases in muscle mass and strength, particularly in the lower extremities. This highlights that participating in regular targeted exercise programs enhances leg strength and muscle circumference in older adults.

A longitudinal study published in Age and Ageing (2016) investigated the relationship between muscle mass and functional decline in older men and women. The findings indicated that lower muscle mass, particularly in the lower extremities, was associated with a higher risk of mobility limitations and disability over time.

Strategies for Building and Preserving Leg Strength

Fortunately, it's never too late to start improving leg strength, muscle circumference, and overall good healthy exercise habits. Incorporating regular strength training exercises, such as squats, lunges, wall sits, bridges, and calf raises into your fitness routine can help build muscle mass and increase leg strength. Additionally, prioritizing good sleep and proper nutrition will enhance your efforts in the weight room.

Remember, the stronger you stand, the more empowered you'll be to embrace the journey of aging with confidence and vitality.

Example Home Exercises:

Bodyweight Squats

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly out.
  2. Keep your back straight, chest up, and core engaged.
  3. Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if you're sitting into a chair.
  4. Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground or as far as comfortable.
  5. Push through your whole foot to return to the starting position.

Lunges

  1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Take a big step forward with one leg and lower your body until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Keep your front knee aligned with your ankle and your back knee hovering just above the floor.
  4. Push through the heel of your front foot to return to the starting position.
  5. Alternate legs and repeat.

Wall Sits

  1. Lean your back against a wall and walk your feet out, keeping them hip-width apart.
  2. Slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground, creating a seated position.
  3. Keep your back flat against the wall and hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Focus on keeping your knees at a 90-degree angle and your thighs parallel to the ground.

Calf Raises

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding onto a stable surface for balance if needed.
  2. Rise up onto the balls of your feet, lifting your heels as high as possible.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top, then lower your heels back down.

Glute Bridges

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips towards the ceiling, creating a straight line from knees to shoulders.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top, then slowly lower back down.

References

  1. Yip, W., Ge, L., Heng, B. H., & Tan, W. S. (2021). Association between patient-reported functional measures and incident falls. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 5201. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84557-3
  2. Grgic, J., Garofolini, A., Orazem, J., Sabol, F., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Pedisic, Z. (2020). Effects of resistance training on muscle size and strength in very elderly adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Sports Medicine, 50(11), 1983–1999. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01331-7
  3. Brinson, Z. S., Tang, V. L., & Finlayson, E. (2016). Postoperative functional outcomes in older adults. Current Surgery Reports, 4(6), 21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40137-016-0140-7
  4. Hui-Jing Bai, Jian-Qin Sun, Min Chen, Dan-Feng Xu, Hua Xie, Zhuo-Wei Yu, Zhi-Jun Bao, Jie Chen, Yi-Ru Pan, Da-Jiang Lu, & Sulin Cheng. (2016). Age-related decline in skeletal muscle mass and function among elderly men and women in Shanghai, China: A cross sectional study. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 25(2). https://doi.org/10.6133/apjcn.2016.25.2.14
  5. Batista, F. S., Gomes, G. A. D. O., D’Elboux, M. J., Cintra, F. A., Neri, A. L., Guariento, M. E., & Souza, M. D. L. R. D. (2014). Relationship between lower-limb muscle strength and functional independence among elderly people according to frailty criteria: A cross-sectional study. Sao Paulo Medical Journal, 132(5), 282–289. https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-3180.2014.1325669

About the Author

Brianna Musco

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