Why core strength is vital at every stage of life

Almost every movement you make either originates from or is supported by your core muscles; whether you’re hitting a golf ball or mopping the floor.

The core is at the centre of your body – the area between your shoulder blades and pelvis. It includes your abs, hips, back and chest.

A strong core is so beneficial in all aspects of life, especially as we age. It stabilises the body, providing strength and balance which helps prevent falls and injuries.

Core strength also improves your posture, protecting the spine from the wear and tear often caused by slouching.

Read: Morning stretches you can do in bed

Thankfully, core-strengthening exercises can help you build a strong, sturdy foundation, no matter what stage of life you’re at.

When talking about the core, personal trainer Sarah Walls refers to it as the “lumbo-pelvic hip complex”.

“If you’re going to prioritise different areas of the body,” says Ms Walls, “the core would be number one because everything else branches off from that.”

Because of the confusion about what the core is, many people think that core strengthening means just doing ab workouts.

“It does equal some ab training,” says Ms Walls, “but it also equals training your hips, training your back, and learning how to stabilise the core musculature.”

You also need to be careful what types of ab exercises you do.

In particular, two classic exercises of gym classes from years ago have now fallen out of favour due to the potential for injury.

“Spinal flexion – as far as crunches and traditional sit-ups – is a really bad idea because of all the pressure it puts on the spine,” says Ms Walls.

You can still work the core, though, even without over flexing the spine with jerky sit-ups.

“You get a lot of these core exercises where there’s no spinal movement – or very little – depending on what you’re doing,” says Ms Walls.

Best core exercises for seniors
The best part about these core exercises is that you can complete them anywhere. You don’t need access to a gym or any fancy equipment, you simply need a mat, carpeted floor or chair.

Bridges
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your arms at your sides. Tighten your buttocks, then lift your hips up off the floor until they form a straight line with your hips and shoulders. Hold. Return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

Read: Yoga keeps seniors young

Bridges are effective because they create rigidity from the rib cage to the pelvis and all the way from the belly button around to the back. The whole region becomes solid, and it creates a contraction of all the muscle groups, like a corset.

Opposite arm and leg raise
Kneel on all fours, with your head and spine neutral. Extend your left leg off the floor behind you while reaching out in front of you with your right arm. Keeping your hips and shoulders squared, try to bring that leg and arm parallel to the floor. Hold, then return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise with your right leg and left arm. Repeat the exercise on both sides 10 times.

As you stretch out the opposite arm and leg, you’re contracting your core and the muscles in the other arm and leg as they support you.

The movements should be slow and controlled, don’t just go through the motions as quickly as possible.

Planks
Start on your hands and knees. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lower your upper body onto your forearms, aligning your shoulders directly over your elbows and keeping your toes on the ground behind you. Keep your back straight, making your body as much like a ‘plank’ as possible. Hold the position for 10 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat five times.

Planks create contractions of the core, arm, and shoulder muscles as you stay in a push-up position. They are excellent for improving overall core strength.

Read: Why strength training is critical

Seated side bends
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, keeping one hand behind your head and the other reaching towards the floor. Lean over as though you’re going to touch the floor, tightening the oblique muscles running along the side of your body in the process. Return to your initial position and repeat on the opposite side.

Make each bend slow and controlled, initiating movement from your core to really work your obliques.

Leg lifts
Work your lower abdominal muscles by lying flat on the floor with legs and feet relaxed. Contract your abs while raising one leg about five inches off the floor, holding for three counts. Repeat with the other leg.

Yoga is also a great way for seniors to improve their overall core strength, and many studios will offer classes designed specifically for older adults. Pilates is another great exercise for core strength, and many of the movements can be modified based on your ability.

Do you incorporate core strengthening moves in your exercise schedule? Have you noticed your core getting weaker as you age? Why not share your favourite core exercises in the comments section below?

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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