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Boost your thigh strength for comfort and balance.

Your thigh muscles (called the quadriceps) are the largest and leanest muscles in your body, and are crucial for any type of motion that involves flexing the hip--for example, walking, running and squatting--and also for stabilizing your knee joint as you walk, notes David Thomas, MD, associate professor of medicine and rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai. However, older adults tend to have reduced leg strength, and research suggests that older overweight women are particularly at risk.

Crucial for movement Strong quadriceps enable you to walk extended distances, ascend and descend stairs, and participate in sports or recreational activities, such as dancing. "They also protect your back if you need to bend down to lift a heavy object," Dr. Thomas says. "If your quads are weak, you'll tend to bend at the waist and use your back rather than your legs to help you lift. This places you at risk of back injuries."

Strong quads also help when it comes to maintaining your balance. "If your quads and leg muscles overall are strong, you're less likely to fall if you trip or experience an unexpected change in momentum, such as might happen on the subway or on a bus," Dr. Thomas explains.

Shock absorber One of the most important benefits of strengthening your quads is that the muscles can then better function as a shock absorber. When you walk or run, every time you take a step the impact of hitting the ground sends forces through the joints of your legs. "Having strong quads is one way to dissipate some of those forces and decrease wear and tear on the knee joints," Dr. Thomas says. "This is particularly important if the joints are already compromised by arthritis or another condition."

Incorporate the exercises shown here into your physical fitness routine to help boost your thigh strength.

RELATED ARTICLE: Strength exercises for key muscles

Thigh stretch Tie a medium-weight exercise band to the leg of the chair and loop it around your foot, with your knee bent. Slowly straighten your knee, stretching the band. Hold for five seconds, then slowly bring your knee back to the starting position. Do five repetitions and then switch legs.

Chair Squat Stand in front of a chair. Bend your hips and knees as though you were going to sit down, but hover above the seat or tap down lightly with the buttocks instead; then, come back up to the starting position. Make sure your knees do not extend beyond your toes as you squat.

Step Up Stand at the bottom of a staircase or other sturdy step, keeping your feet flat and toes facing forward. Step up onto the step with your right foot, straightening your right leg, then place your left foot next to your right. Then step down with your 11 right foot, followed by your left foot. Repeat 10 times starting with your right foot stepping up and down first, then 10 times with your left foot stepping up and down. Do three sets for each foot (if you're unsteady on your feet, hold onto a banister or hand rail for balance).

Quad Set Lie on your back. Bend one leg, keeping your foot on the floor; keep the other leg straight. Press the back of the knee of your straight leg downward as you tighten the muscle on top of your thigh (quad), pulling the kneecap up toward your head. Hold this position for five seconds, then relax to the start position. Repeat 10 times, then do the same with your other leg. Do three sets of 10 repetitions with each leg, once or twice daily.
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Title Annotation:FITNESS
Publication:Focus on Healthy Aging
Article Type:Report
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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