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This Week’s What Do I Need To Know About……The Unexpected Benefits of Squats

While squats often conjure images of folks exercising in pursuit of a beach-ready body, squats can offer benefits way beyond a bikini booty. This week’s blog explores research on how squats can benefit your brain and the rest of your body.

Can squats make you smarter?

New research shows that weight bearing exercise is key for the production of new neural cells, essential for brain health and performance. These findings help to explain why many patients with motor neuron conditions such as multiple sclerosis—which makes everyday coordinated movements a challenge, let alone exercise—tend to decline cognitively as well as physically. This preliminary research showed that engaging lower body muscles sends signals to the brain to produce new neural cells. Cutting back on exercise greatly reduced—by up to 70%—production of these cells, as well as reduced oxygen in the body and slowed overall metabolism. Regular weight bearing exercise such as walking, running, or strength training regimens—so don’t forget to add those squats—will ensure the optimal health of your brain and nervous system. Keep moving for maximum smarts!

Wait, though, are squats bad for your knees?

In 1961, Dr. Karl Klein of the University of Texas published a study that is thought to be the beginning of the anti-squat movement. Dr. Klein posited that squats were dangerous because he believed squats led to knee ligament laxity. This news emptied out the squat racks and made the leg press the go-to exercise for leg development at many gyms. Since then several studies have refuted these findings, and squats are now considered safe for healthy individuals by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, as long as proper precautions are taken. Squats should be performed with proper technique and with the supervision of a qualified trainer for new practitioners. Done properly, squats will improve strength, coordination, mobility, and athleticism. Start with bodyweight squats and look here for more information on how to squat safely.

The importance of squatting for healthy pelvic floor muscles.

Many tend to take the pelvic floor muscles for granted until they aren’t functioning properly—a common problem for many women after giving birth and even for some men as they age. Kegels are often recommended for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, but it turns out squats might be just as important. Kegel exercises—squeezing the muscles that stop the flow of urine—do strengthen the pelvic floor, but some fitness experts believe that done alone they might cause excessive tightness, especially if other stabilizer muscles aren’t strengthened as well. For example, weak glutes can contribute to pelvic floor tightness, so exercises such as bridges or squats can compliment Kegels. Also elongating pelvic floor muscles by doing deep squats can also prevent over tightness and increase blood flow. So when it comes to improving pelvic floor strength, it seems that striking a balance between Kegels, glute strengthening, and overall pelvic flexibility might be a more well-rounded—and more effective—plan of action.

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