Ten-Year study finds stronger legs means better brains
Kings College London has published the findings on an in-depth ten-year long study that links leg strength to brain function. And for those who already factor a leg day in their program it’s good news….the stronger the legs the slower the degeneration of the brain with age!
The study examined 324 sets of female twins aged between 43 and 73. Using twins enabled the researchers to factor in genetic influences alongside detailed lifestyle and health factors. Every participant was monitored over a full ten years and their brain function assessed regularly and compared with their leg strength. Leg strength was taken as an indicator of overall fitness.
Since exercise releases chemicals that affect the brain, the research suggests the old adage about brain versus brawn was entirely wrong… the two go hand in hand.
Of all the factors compared to brain function, leg strength was the strongest indicator of them all. The fitter specimens demonstrated better memory and mental processing skills than those with weaker legs. And when compared with their siblings the twins with the strongest legs at the beginning of the study were those with the best brains throughout and at the end.
So, if you want to be alert as you age, get your legs moving and strong with this simple weekly program. Here are 7 exercises to do every week for leaner limbs and keener minds.
1. Walk with purpose
Try to add a 30-minute power walk one day a week, even if you’re used to running or jogging: the lower intensity on the heart is compensated for by greater power through your thighs meaning fuller strides and less momentum which will create an entirely different type of leg strength.
2. Squat deep
We’re all built differently and in most exercise programmes the squat stops when the knees get to 90 degrees but if you can go deeper then do. Stride your feet at hip distance apart initially with your knees vertically above your ankles. Then bend your knees as deep as is manageable for you. As soon as your heels rise or your knees angle forward, stop – that’s your range. To bring yourself up, tense your glutes as tight as you can and bring your hips up first. Do 3 sets of 12, and add a kettlebell if it’s easy.
3. Power up your lunges
Try adding a ballistic move to your lunges to bring more power to your thighs. Land one foot directly beneath the hip and take the other way back in line with the hip also. Hook the toe of the back foot under and lift the heel of the back foot. Bend your front knee deep then jump up landing with the feet swapped ready to go again on the other side. Can you manage 20 without stopping?
4. Step to it
If you have a step at home or at the gym use it. Get the whole of one foot on the platform and lift your whole body weight up using the leg of the landed foot raising the knee of the other leg high. Repeat 20 times on each leg for three reps.
5. Crab walks
Assume a low wide squat position where your feet are wide of your shoulders and your legs rotated so both knees and all toes are oriented outwards. Go low into a squat and keep low as you walk four steps to the right followed by four to the left. Make sure the whole of your foot lifts and lands every time. Keep going for three minutes.
6. Yoga warrior
Yoga postures are great for building strength and stamina in the legs. Stride wide and turn your right leg out from the body 90 degrees and your left foot out from the body 30 degrees. Keep both feet flat to the floor as you bend your right knee to a right angle and lift your arms out wide palms down. Increase the load on the right leg by tilting your torso 45 degrees to the right. Hold for one minute and then repeat on the other side.
7. Blend in some balance
The lower leg muscles keep you stable so don’t neglect them. See if you can stand on one leg for one minute each side. If that’s easy try it again with your eyes closed, you’ll soon feel your calf and ankle muscles doing their thing.