It’s no secret that stability starts to become a problem for many of us as we get older. But, new research gives a little more insight into how it happens. By age 75, people typically lose 30 to 50 percent of the nerves in their legs, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Physiology. It’s a big problem because the loss of nerves leaves you frail, more likely to fall, and at increased risk of fractures. The good news: Researchers say that people with stronger muscles in their legs are more likely to have a protective mechanism that helps preserve the nerves in their lower body. And there are plenty of leg exercises to avoid injury as you age. As a result, you stay healthier, stronger, and less likely to get hurt.
“Strength training, as we age, has so many benefits, including increased bone density, lower risk of diabetes, reduced blood pressure, and weight maintenance because of an increased metabolic rate during and after exercise,” says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist and owner of AYC Health and Fitness in Kansas City, Kansas. If you tend to steer clear of strength moves, you’re setting yourself up to fall. Additionally, you’re increasing your risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and obesity. Find out more about keeping your lower body strong. Then, add these leg exercises to avoid injury to your routine.
A strong lower body can keep you from falling.
Even with strength in your legs, you might still lose your balance or get unsteady from time to time. But your body will be better able to react to it and keep you upright. “When you have strong muscles around the joints of your lower body, it will help you react to the stimulus of falling,” says Justice. “It’s all about stability around your hips, knees, and ankles.”
To maintain that stability around the joints in your legs, Justice recommends a comprehensive approach that trains all the muscles of your lower body. Also important: to work the muscles in a variety of planes. You don’t just want to do exercises that take you forward and back, but you want to challenge your muscles with side-to-side motions and twisting motions, as well.
Leg Exercises to Avoid Injury
Try these six moves to work your entire lower half in every direction. Aim for three sets of ten to 12 repetitions of each. Keep in mind that you might need to modify them, says Justice. “It’s important to personalize these exercises if you have joint issues that will limit your ability to perform some of the exercises.” He recommends talking to a personal trainer for tips on how to tweak the moves if you need to.
Works glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hips.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms extended in front of you at chest height. Bend your knees and lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push back up to starting position.
Works quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips or extended at your sides. Take a big step back with your right foot and lower until left thigh is parallel to the floor. Push back up to starting position. Repeat, alternating sides.
Works glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Take a big step out to the right with your right foot. Bend right knee, keeping left leg straight, and push your butt back as though you’re sitting down. Lower until right thigh is almost parallel to the floor, then push back up to starting position. Continue, alternating sides.
Stand with feet hip-width apart on the floor or on the edge of a stair. (You can hold onto the wall or rail for balance.) Slowly lift heels and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Lower and repeat.
Banded Leg Lift
Works glutes and hip abductors (outer thigh).
Wrap a small resistance band around your ankles. Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips. (You can hold onto a chair or the wall for balance.) Slowly raise right leg a few inches off the floor until you feel the squeeze in your right glutes. Lower and repeat, then repeat on opposite side.
Works hip adductors (inner thigh).
Sit on a chair with a medium-size squishy ball placed snugly between your thighs. Slowly press legs together, pausing to feel the squeeze on your inner thighs. Return to starting position and repeat.