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If you can remember all your power metrics from a decade ago, you might chalk up your impressive memory up to having equally impressive quads.
We know that cardio exercise like cycling is good for your brain, and that lower-body strength training is good for your cycling. Now, a study published in Gerontology reports that there’s a compelling connection between lower-body power and enduring brain health. More simply put: Powerful legs mean a strong brain in old age.
In the study, a team of researchers from King’s College in London measured the leg power and cognitive ability of 324 twins ages 43 to 73, then tested their thinking, learning, and memory again 10 years later. At the end of the decade, the twins who had more leg power when the study began better sustained their cognitive ability and brain health than their weaker-legged counterparts.
What’s most interesting about this particular study is that it measured not just leg strength, but leg power, which means not just how much you can lift, but also your muscular force and speed, or the ability to do a lot of work—like, say, hammer a bike up a hill. It’s yet another argument for cyclists to lift a little aggressively, focusing on not just strength and stability, but also explosive power—something some riders are still reluctant to include in workouts.
To that end, here are three moves to include in your repertoire when you hit the gym, to build and preserve strength and power both in your lower limbs and upstairs between your ears. Do two sets twice a week.
Elevated Single Leg Squat
Hold dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing in. Stand with your back to a chair or bench with your legs together, then step your left leg forward so you’re in a wide split stance. Extend your right leg back, placing the top of your foot on the surface. Maintaining a straight, tall posture, bend your front leg to as close to parallel to the floor as possible. Press back to the starting position and repeat for a full set of 8 to 12; then switch legs.
Squat Thrust & Jump
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend down to squat position while reaching to the floor to the outside of your feet with your hands. Shoot your legs back so you’re in a push-up position, your body in a straight line from head to heels. Hop your legs forward toward your hands, bringing yourself to the squat position. Jump straight toward the ceiling arms outstretched overhead, as high as possible. Land softly, keeping knees slightly bent. Immediately repeat for 10 reps.
Single leg step down
Holding dumbbells, stand on a 12-inch step with only the right foot on top of the step, allowing the other leg to hang in the air. Pull your navel toward your spine and, keeping your chest lifted and back straight, slowly step down with the left foot and gently tap the left heel on the floor. Return to starting position, keeping your right heel firmly planted on the step. Do two sets of 15 reps on each leg.
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