The Best Exercise For Your Health Is?
Exercising at least two or three times a week provides various health benefits to older adults. What’s really interesting is there’s one exercise that health experts say offers the most benefits for seniors: Squats.
Doing squats each week—if not every day—strengthens the lower body and even helps to preserve and grow muscle mass, which is gradually lost due to aging.
“The squat is the most important exercise for seniors,” Eric Daw, a personal trainer dedicated to older adults, told AARP. Older adults-even those who do not exercise regularly—may not realize it, but they do squats throughout the day.
“When you have to go to the washroom, that’s a squat,” says Daw, founder of Omni-Fitt in Toronto, Canada. “When you get in the car, that’s a squat. Every time you sit down or stand up, that’s a squat. If you don’t do them well, it affects the way you live.”
Squats help to protect the joints, improve balance, and prevent falls, according to health and fitness expert Denise Austin, creator of DeniseAustin.com.
“Squats are one of the best overall exercises,” Austin told AARP. “They strengthen the major muscles of the lower body we need to keep strong and also protect two joints we need help with on a regular basis—our knees and our hips.”
A squat is considered a compound movement because the exercise works for multiple muscle groups simultaneously. For example, a squat targets the following muscles:
• Gluteus Maximus (Glutes, for short, are in the buttock and hip area)
• Hamstrings (back of the thigh)
• Hip flexors (the group of muscles toward the front of the hip)
• Quadriceps (quads, for short, are muscles in the front of the thigh)
• Adductor (groin)
The squat also targets muscles in the waist and the abdominal muscles.
According to Noam Tamir, founder, and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City, the primary muscles involved in the movement of a squat are the quadriceps and the glutes. On the “eccentric” part of the move or the lowering portion of the squat, the hamstrings and hip flexors are the primary muscles. Tamir, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, told Self that squats also work the muscles around the knee, which helps build strength and prevent injury.
Older adults who have chronic health conditions, an injury, or mobility issues should talk with their doctor before doing squats or starting any new exercise.
Beyond improving muscle mass, research shows that doing squats can help you live longer. For example, a 2006 study followed older adults ranging in age from 70-79 years old for five years. Researchers found that adults who had the strongest quadriceps had a lower risk of early death. In addition, a 2012 study tested the musculoskeletal fitness of participants between 51–80 years old. Investigators scored the participants’ ability to sit on the floor and then get up without using their hands or knees. They also followed participants for a little over six years. According to the study, participants who had higher scores because they did not need assistance getting off the floor had the lowest mortality rates. In comparison, people who had lower scores due to needing assistance had higher mortality rates.
Getting Started With Squats
1. Position your feet
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart or a little wider. If you have hip problems, have your legs a little farther apart. The National Academy of Sports Medicine says your toes should point forward. SilverSneakers, a fitness program designed for adults 65 and over, agrees with this stance. According to SilverSneakers, the most important thing is that “both feet point in the same direction, not one pointed slightly out. This helps protect your hips and keeps your feet in line, creating a solid base.”
2. Lower into the squat
Keeping your eyes forward, back straight, chest up, and heels on the ground, push your hips back as if you are going to sit in a chair. Reach your arms straight out from your shoulders to help counterbalance. Squat as far as comfortable. Tamir recommends lowering yourself until the back of your thighs are parallel to the floor. If you’re having difficulty, Tamir suggests ending the squat at whatever depth is pain-free for you.
3. Do not rush through the downward motion
“Make sure you’re controlling the eccentric part of the movement,” Tamir says. Taking a couple of seconds to lower yourself increases the tension for your muscles, which will make them work harder. Once you reach the bottom of the squat, stop for a second, so you are not using momentum to push yourself back up. Push through your heels to return to standing. Raising yourself up is the part of the exercise that really builds strength, Austin says.
Aim for doing two sets of eight to 10 squats at a rate of two seconds down and two seconds up.
Tips for Doing Squats
1. Keep your feet on the floor
Lori Michiel, the founder of Lori Michiel Fitness, which specializes in senior fitness in the home, says to try and keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet throughout the exercise. Keep your weight mostly on your heels and not on your toes.
Tamir said that keeping your feet on the ground helps to engage your muscles, improve alignment, and create stability. Stability also prevents your arches from collapsing which can make your knees more likely to cave inward when you squat.
2. Watch your knees
Make sure your knees do not extend forward over your toes because that can hurt your knees. Also, do not do a deep bend if you have knee or hip issues.
Making a Squat Easier
If you have difficulty doing a squat standing up, make it easier on yourself by doing it sitting down. Fitness expert David Jack says to:
1. Sit down, and plant your feet on the floor. Keep your chest up, knees out, and push down through the floor to stand up.
2. Lower back down to the chair.
If you have a knee issue that hurts you when you squat, start from a seated position and push up just a couple of inches. Once you feel some tension, release to sit back down. You’ll still build strength in your legs, hips, and core, even with this small range of motion.