Squat Exercises Can Improve Leg Function in Older Adults

When most people think of squat exercises, they picture muscle-bound guys hefting huge weights. But squats are also useful in general fitness plans and physical therapy. Squats involve all the joints of the leg–the hip, knee, and ankle. And they can be done in different ways to focus on specific muscles.

This study looked at using squats for older adults. Strong and steady leg joints can help older people avoid falls and maintain their independence. Squats are especially useful because they involve the same motions as sitting and rising from a chair, a task that can become difficult with age. But the squat exercises have to be safe for aging joints and practical for older people to do.

These authors studied the “chair squat.” In a chair squat, the exerciser lowers down toward a chair or bench, as if sitting, before slowly standing up straight again. The motion is similar in a regular squat, except that there is no chair to aid the exerciser in a regular squat. The chair adds an element of safety in case the exerciser loses balance or becomes tired.

Study participants were healthy adults between 70 and 80 years old. They were not regular exercisers. They did the squats at a speed they selected, without using any weights. After at least a week of practicing squats, their leg joint movements were measured doing regular squats and chair squats. The results showed that chair squats worked the hip muscles specifically, while the regular squats worked the knees and ankles.

This information can be used to help develop exercise and rehabilitation programs for older adults. The authors recommend studying how squats affect the muscles when done with weights, at higher speeds, and with increased repetition.