Ask Well: Squats for Aging Knees
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
Ask WellI’m looking for exercises to strengthen aging knees. I’m in my late 60s, and I take part in dancing, weightlifting and yoga. All this makes me feel good, gives me plenty of energy and helps me control my weight. But my knees hurt enough to make me wonder how long I can keep up the workouts. Do you have any suggestions?
Reader Question • 865 votes
You are already doing many things right, in terms of taking care of your aging knees. In particular, it sounds as if you are keeping your weight under control. Carrying extra pounds undoubtedly strains knees and contributes to pain and eventually arthritis.
You mention weight training, too, which is also valuable. Sturdy leg muscles, particularly those at the front and back of the thighs, stabilize the knee, says Joseph Hart, an assistant professor of kinesiology and certified athletic trainer at the University of Virginia, who often works with patients with knee pain.
An easy exercise to target those muscles is the squat. Although many of us have heard that squats harm knees, the exercise is actually “quite good for the knees, if you do the squats correctly,” Dr. Hart says. Simply stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and bend your legs until your thighs are almost, but not completely, parallel to the ground. Keep your upper body straight. Don’t bend forward, he says, since that movement can strain the knees. Try to complete 20 squats, using no weight at first. When that becomes easy, Dr. Hart suggests, hold a barbell with weights attached. Or simply clutch a full milk carton, which is my cheapskate’s squats routine.
Straight leg lifts are also useful for knee health. Sit on the floor with your back straight and one leg extended and the other bent toward your chest. In this position, lift the straight leg slightly off the ground and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 to 20 times and then switch legs.
You can also find other exercises that target the knees in this video, “Increasing Knee Stability.”
Of course, before starting any exercise program, consult a physician, especially, Dr. Hart says, if your knees often ache, feel stiff or emit a strange, clicking noise, which could be symptoms of arthritis.