The Importance of Strength and Function

What exercise do you think is the most important for physical independence and daily function? I hope you said the squat, because the answer is probably the squat. They are a wonderful exercise to improve function at any age or ability level. Think about the movements you go through to get in and out of your car, or the muscles that you engage to get out of bed in the morning. What about going up stairs or getting in to the bathtub?  All those daily activities require you to flex your hips and knees and use the muscles in your thighs and butt.

Before we go further, I think a little anatomy review is in order. The muscles in the front of your thighs, the quads, are some of the strongest muscles in your body. They help us step up, get up, and control our descent into chairs. The glutes, or the booty muscles, are also very strong and important. The glutes help us stand up straight. They help us avoid the bent over shuffle posture that you unfortunately see in senior population. It is very common to hear the wife of a middle-aged gentleman complain that he has lost his butt or that he now has “chicken legs”. A wife can be so cruel. The husbands have lost strength because they have become sedentary over the years and have stopped using their glutes and quads.

Reduced activity and loss of lower body muscle mass can be even more problematic in women. Osteoporosis is a scary word after menopause, but it is usually directly tied to muscle use. Resistance training, namely weight lifting, is essential to prevent osteoporosis. That means that as a woman ages she should make weight lifting a priority. I am not suggesting that they copy Holga from the East German Olympic team, but a moderate weight lifting regime can do wonders, for both men and women, as we age.

I do not have the time, nor the energy, to name all the other benefits of building and maintaining lower body muscle mass in this blog. Some of them are pretty cool, like increasing metabolism and driving your significant other crazy with your awesome booty. What seems to be most important to people, especially as we age, is to maintain personal independence. We recognize that as a society we are living longer, but if we are not living better those extra years on the end can be fairly frightening. One of the main reasons that people end up in nursing homes is that they become unable to take care of themselves physically. They can no longer get in and out of bed, they cannot get up after a fall, or they are unable to dress themselves. Squats, dead-lifts and lunges all help us continue to daily activities throughout life.

I love helping people begin a workout program. Sometimes starting is as simple as doing 10 air squats a day. For one patient it was getting in and out of a dining room chair 10 times. A few time I have been asked to design a more elaborate leg routine involving multiple exercises with various performance goals. But an important part of improving function is to make sure that you are moving as you should. Subluxations, or joint dysfunction, can limit your potential and make you susceptible to injury. For instance, upper back tightness and restriction can make it impossible to do a proper squat. That is why it is important to get yourself checked, regardless where you are in your workout program. Call today and get better!

-Dr. Aaron England