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The Importance of Core Strength for Seniors

The Importance of Core Strength for Seniors

Getting out of bed, walking into the living room, sitting down, standing up, turning around, picking up a box, playing a round of tennis, leaning down to pet the dog. Every one of these activities engages the core.

Most daily life activities require core muscles, and building a strong core, with muscles that work together effectively, means a day untroubled insufficient balance, back pain, or difficulty standing up or sitting down.

Often exercising the core is thought of as an abdominal workout, with a flat stomach as the goal. Abs certainly are part of it, but the core matters for everyone, not just those aiming for a six-pack.

When we talk about the core, we are referring to the entire torso region and its supporting muscles in the legs and shoulders. The back, glutes (muscles on the back of the thigh), and spinal region are all critical to supporting body weight.

Strengthening these muscles ensures the burden is not placed solely on the bones, which can become prone to breakage as we age. From getting up in the morning to lying back down at night, a strong core can keep us balanced, pain-free, active, and able to better enjoy life.


Benefits of a Strong Core

Building a strong core comes with many key benefits.

  • Improves Balance and Prevents Falls – Core muscles are the body’s main stabilizers. A weak core means poor balance, which can increase the likelihood of falling. Fall-related injuries are often serious and can limit activities or make it impossible to live independently. A strong core, alternatively, can help prevent falls, navigate uneven walkways, walk up and down the stairs, and lean down to pick up a grandchild without toppling over.

  • Helps to Prevent Back Pain – Many adults experience back pain as they grow older, the wear and tear of life taking its toll on the vertebrae, causing bones to begin rubbing against one another. This rubbing of bone, as well as the undue stress it puts on the surrounding muscles, is the leading cause of back pain in older adults. Stretching and strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine can prevent much of this friction, and subsequent discomfort, from taking place.

  • Improves Posture – A weak core is cited as a major risk factor for developing hyperkyphosis, the exaggerated forward curve of the shoulders seen in some older adults sometimes called Dowager’s Hump. The development of this condition has been shown to result in back pain, impaired mobility, increased risk of falling, lower overall quality of life, and increased risk of mortality. A strong core, on the other hand, has been shown to support straight shoulders and a tall spine, which mitigate many of the aforementioned health issues associated with curved shoulders.

Building a Strong Core

There are many ways to improve core strength, quite a few of which can be done for no cost in the comfort of one’s own home.

  • Bodyweight Exercises – The sit-up is perhaps the most well-known bodyweight core exercise, requiring no equipment besides oneself. Others include leg lifts, side bends, and bridge. These are all great exercises to become familiar with, as they can be done anywhere -- on vacation, in the living room, or at the gym.

  • Swimming and Water Exercise – Water-based exercise has a positive impact on the entire body, not just the core. The cushion of water helps keep joints and bones undisturbed, and flexibility and strength both improve significantly. As an added bonus, many public pools and gyms offer water aerobics classes, making this a fairly accessible form of exercise.

  • Tai Chi – As part of the martial arts family, this gentle exercise was originally developed for self-defence, but is now often described as “meditation in motion.” Like water exercise, it builds the core while being easy on joints, and has added psychological and stress-reduction benefits as well. Many Tai Chi groups practice in public parks or at senior centers, and are easily identified by the rolling motions of the movements.

  • Balance Training – Balance and core strength have a symbiotic relationship - when the core is strong, balance is good, when the core is weak, balance is poor. It follows, then, that balance exercises help strengthen the core. Activities as simple as standing on one foot, walking heel-to-toe, and standing on tiptoe can build up core strength and improve balance simultaneously. Alternatively, an exercise balance board can also yield excellent results.

  • Yoga – While the extreme flexibility of many young yoga practitioners may seem intimidating, yoga has been shown to be effective and beneficial for people of all ages, with some practicing well into their nineties. Maintaining a regular yoga practice is a great way to keep flexible, build muscle, and improve core strength. Tree, warrior II, and bridge are good poses to start off with.

Core training is an easy addition to a daily routine, and holds many benefits for older adults. Start out by trying various exercises for short periods of time, building up to longer workouts. In no time at all, core exercise will feel natural and normal, and getting up the stairs will be that much easier.

From tall, straight shoulders, to a pain-free back, to better balance and a lower risk of fall-related injuries, a strong core is a major help in nearly every area of life.

Rob Smith writes for, focusing on simple yet effective strategies to improve health and wellbeing for the long term.  

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