When most people hear the words “core strength,” images of washboard abs usually come to mind. But a strong core is important for people of all ages and body types. You don’t have to have the body of a Greek god to have a strong core, and for seniors, it’s more important than ever to maintain strength in this key area of the body.
Is Core Training the Same as Working Your Abs?
Seniors may question the importance of core workouts, as most people assume that “core” refers exclusively to the abdominal muscles. Your core is more than just your abs – it also includes the front side and the back side of your body as well. They are the areas that stabilize and help with movement and agility.
Core workouts will target the erector spinae, which are the muscles that make up both your back and your glutes.
Why Core Strength is Important for Seniors
Most seniors are focused on keeping their hearts healthy and their bodies flexible, but core strength will aid in a number of things, including:
- Preventing back pain
- Maintaining coordination
- Improving posture
- Enhancing digestion
- Improving breathing
Your core helps support your spine while keeping your body balanced and stable. Having a strong core will not only help you with everyday activities – it will also help prevent injuries.
A study from the University of Illinois Chicago demonstrates the importance of core strength when it comes to preventing falls.
Researchers created a treadmill that’s designed to trip the user. The slats on the treadmill shift suddenly when users step on them. Users are hooked up to harnesses for support and to prevent falls. But the tripping motion actually benefited seniors.
The researchers found that 24 “trips” in a session helped seniors “re-learn” how to fall and improved their natural ability to prevent falls. Numerous sessions would be required to improve muscle strength, but just a few sessions are enough to reduce the chances of falling by as much as 50% over the following 12 months.
The research is still ongoing and in its early stages, but the therapy looks promising.
4 Real-Life Activities that Require Core Strength
Along with preventing injuries and falls, core strength can also make it easier to enjoy activities that many of us take for granted, like:
1. Everyday Tasks
Picking up a package off the porch or bending down to tie your shoes can be a challenging task if you’re lacking core strength. Standing still, sitting in a chair or looking behind you require a strong core.
All of these things may be easy to do right now, but they may become more difficult if you don’t work on your core strength. Even basic activities like getting dressed or taking a bath require you to use your core muscles. Without a strong core, taking a bath might not be an option without a bath lift.
2. Housework and Gardening
Whether cleaning the house or planting flowers in the garden, core strength is required for most tasks around the house. Carrying things, twisting, lifting, bending or reaching overhead all require the use of core muscles.
3. Sports and Leisure Activities
Most sports and pleasurable activities require you to use your core muscles in some way, including:
- Racquet sports
4. On-the-Job Tasks
Jobs that require you to twist, lift or stand for long periods of time call for strong core muscles. But even just sitting at a desk, typing, or using the phone requires you to use your core.
Ultimately, a strong core supports a healthy back, which prevents pain and injury. It also improves balance and stability to further reduce your risk of falling.
4 Core Exercises for Seniors
Now that you understand the importance of your core muscles, you may be wondering how to strengthen them. There are several exercises that you can add to your routine to start improving core muscle strength.
Bridges improve strength in your lower back, buttocks and abdominal muscles. They also improve your balance.
- Begin by lying on the floor on your back.
- Bend your knees and make sure that your feet are flat on the floor.
- Contract your core and raise your hips until you form a straight line from your knees to your chest. Avoid arching your back.
- Hold the bridge for three seconds.
- Return to the starting position.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
The Superman exercise improves stability while working your lower back and glutes.
- Start by lying on the floor on your stomach.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you. Your legs should be straight out behind you.
- Raise your head and neck while raising your right arm and left leg. Aim to lift your arm and leg 2 inches off of the ground.
- Lower down, and repeat on the opposite sides.
- Pull your belly button toward your spine during the movement to prevent strain on your neck.
- Repeat 5-10 times on each side.
3. Leg Lifts
Leg lifts target the lower abdominal muscles as well as the pelvis.
- Start by lying on the floor on your back. Legs and feet should be flat and relaxed.
- While contracting your abdominal muscles, raise one leg 5 inches off of the floor.
- Hold the position for three breaths.
- Lower and repeat on the other leg.
- Repeat 5-10 times on each leg.
For an even greater challenge, try raising and lower both legs at the same time.
The bicycle is a more challenging exercise that improves coordination and strengthens your abdominal muscles.
- Begin by lying on the floor on your back.
- Place your hands behind your head as if you were performing a crunch.
- Bend your knees. Lift your feet so that your calves are parallel to the floor.
- Pull your belly button in towards your spine.
- On an exhale, bring one knee to your chest while reaching toward it with your opposite elbow.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Continue alternating sides for 30 seconds.
- Rest for one minute, and perform the exercise again for 30 seconds.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.