As you get older, keeping your core strong is more important than ever. “The core is the platform on which the rest of your body moves,” said Daniel Schneider, a physical therapist with Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “If you have a weak core, you are at a greater risk of injury. The core is like the foundation of a house. If you build your house on a weak foundation, it’s going to crumble. But with a strong foundation — a strong core — you can be active and function at your best.”
You rely on your core any time you move your body — your core muscles activate first to stabilize your body, so the rest of your body can move freely. But your core can lose strength quickly. “It takes regular exercise to maintain your core strength, and consistency is the thing most people struggle with,” Schneider said.
These muscles make up your core
When you think of your core, you might think of those “six-pack” muscles in the stomach. “It’s much more than that,” Schneider said. “Your core is like a natural back brace. It consists of all the muscles in your back, belly, and gluteal region, or your buns. These muscles work together to stabilize your torso in activities as simple as getting up off the couch or as involved as playing sports.”
How seniors can build core strength
If you haven’t been paying much attention to your core muscles, don’t jump back into the sit-ups and crunches you remember from your youth. And if you’ve had a bulging disc or back surgery, it’s crucial that you avoid these exercises — they could put you at risk for injury.
“The easiest way to get started is at home. You don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment. You just need a bed or floor, 10 minutes of your time, and some good music. When it comes to basic core strengthening, keeping it simple works great. I always recommend starting with core bracing,” Schneider said. Here’s how to do it:
- Tense your stomach as if someone is going to slap you in the gut, and you are bracing for the impact.
- Hold the tension and breathe normally for three breaths.
- Relax and repeat 30 times.
“You can practice core bracing when you’re sitting, standing or laying on your back,” Schneider said. “The breathing is critical. If you can’t maintain that core brace while breathing, you’re probably not going to brace your core while you are active throughout the day. I guarantee your brain will favor breathing over bracing your core if it can’t do both together.”
Once your core is strong enough that you can brace it and breathe at the same time, you can add in other exercises or activities. Here are a few of Schneider’s favorites:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, your arms alongside your body and your heels a few inches past your hands.
- Tighten your stomach muscles and peel your hips up off the floor until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a line.
- Hold for three breaths, then slowly lower your hips.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Sit at the edge of a sturdy chair with your knees bent and your feet under your hips.
- Place your hands on the seat, lean forward, tighten your core and stand up. Try not to support your weight with your hands. But if it’s too hard at first, you can use a chair with armrests.
- Stay standing for a breath, then tighten your core and slowly lower back to the chair.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Sideways leg kicks
- Stand with your hands on the kitchen counter or the back of your sofa.
- Tighten your core, keep breathing, move one leg out to the side, pause for one second then return to the starting position.
- Repeat 15 times on each side.
- Sit up straight on a chair or bench with your feet on the ground.
- Tighten your core, then lift your right knee toward the ceiling, keeping it bent. Keep the rest of your body still, and don’t lean back.
- Hold your knee up briefly, then slowly lower your foot to the floor.
- Switch to your left leg and repeat for 10 repetitions per leg.
Be careful of your back
If you have back pain or you’ve had back surgery, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you start strengthening your core. “In those cases, an individualized core program is best, Schneider said. “There are tons of articles and websites that promote generic exercises to eliminate your pain. But back pain is a complex topic and can be caused by a number of different issues.” A health care professional can help identify your problem and tailor an exercise program to the issues you’re dealing with so you don’t injure your back.
The bottom line
As you get older, strengthening your core is more crucial than ever. That way, you can build a solid foundation for your body and help prevent injuries. To connect with a health care professional who can help you develop the best core-strengthening plan, reach out to Banner Health.