Older adults who wish to remain physically independent should improve leg strength, advised researchers from Wake Forest University and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. The recommendation was based on two studies performed by the same group. The first study evaluated physical function in 230 retirement community–dwelling adults. Many of these residents were found to have lower-limb strength deficits, and the researchers were concerned that these deficits might negatively affect mobility.

A follow-up study was designed to determine whether improvements in leg strength would result in greater mobility among this same population. This study followed 29 of the same residents through a 6-week movement protocol. Physical function was measured by a one-repetition maximum leg extension and leg curl; a timed 400-meter walk; and other tests designed to measure walking speed, balance and lower-limb strength. The exercise group completed step-ups, toe raises and machine-based knee extension and flexion exercises. By the end of the intervention, leg extension strength had improved by 51% and flexion strength by 31%. There were also anecdotal reports of improved walking ability and confidence.

“The [Wake Forest] department of health and exercise science and the Center on Aging will use the data . . . to recommend that providers develop senior wellness programs which emphasize preventative, affordable exercises that help older adults live healthier, more independent lives,” stated a press release announcing the findings.