Since the days of the early Spanish explorers, man has been consumed with the idea of finding the actual, then proverbial, fountain of youth. The idea of living as long and healthfully, as possible has only gathered steam over the past 500 years, and it is now the topic of hundreds of books and thousands of articles. A quick google search will reveal longevity diets, medical procedures, STEM cell treatments, and a variety of supplement plans – all promising the best way to live as long as possible. While there is merit to some of this information, most is snake oil, and the things that will allow you to live the longest, healthiest life possible, are the things that you already know. There is one thing, however, you may have overlooked that could make a significant difference.
Moving well beyond conventional wisdom, and fad diets, research tells us that one of the most significant predictors of longevity is leg strength. This may seem dubious based on what we see most frequently in the latest fitness magazines; and at first, a good cardio system may make more sense, as might core stability designed to prevent back pain and prevent injury. It is leg strength, however, that has been shown to be most closely correlated with longevity. The good news is that you don’t need to squat the house, or leg press every weight plate in the gym to realize this benefit, but the bad news is that without good leg strength – you are severely limiting your ability to stay active and healthy over the course of your life.
Think of it like this; staying active is the key to staying healthy, and staying active requires that you get your body up and moving throughout the day and in a wide variety of environments. You could have biceps like Arnold, or abs like the ‘Rock,’ but without good leg strength, you will most likely be stuck on the couch. Everything we do; from getting out of bed, to hiking the John Muir trail, first requires leg strength. The irony is that the older we get, the less we seem to want to train the legs – but regardless of age, some of the best exercises to strengthen the legs are:
- Squats: A basic squat that can be done with no weight at all, or hundreds of pounds. What matters more than the weight is your form and technique.
- Leg Press: This workout stresses big primary movers like the squat, but at a slightly different angle that may be more comfortable depending on your particular set of aches and pains.
- Lunges: A great exercise to add to any leg program that allows for unilateral training – working one leg at a time – so that both legs are strengthened equally
- Heel Raises: These can be done either sitting or standing, to stress different aspects of the gastric-soleus complex. However you do it, it is a critical part of foot and ankle stability and overall leg strength
Whatever exercises you choose, remember that using moderate weight with focused intention and careful technique will carry you a long way. Combine slow and steady reps with explosive movements, and don’t hesitate to modify and adapt as necessary.