The importance of core exercises for seniors!
A strong core is what holds you up when walking and keeps you from falling.
As you get older, having a strong core becomes increasingly more important.
When aging, it’s the key to improving your daily life as well as balance and stability.
This is because the core is what connects the top and bottom halves of your body.
Without it, you wouldn’t be able to get up or down, bend over, rotate, or maintain balance and good posture.
And for seniors just getting started, there is good news!
Whether you are in your 50s or 70s, it’s never too late to give your core muscles the attention they deserve.
According to an article by Harvard Health, where they cite the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study that found older people “responded nearly as well to exercise training at 50 as they did at 20.”
And that includes seniors with no previous fitness exercise experience.
It’s undeniable that the core is an essential part of physical health and mobility, especially in your senior years.
If you haven’t been including core exercises into your fitness regimen, it’s time to get started.
What’s Your “Core”?
Think of the “entire core” as 360 degrees of support around the middle of your entire body, not just your abdominal muscles(although they are part of the core).
These muscles combine to perform or support every movement made throughout the day.
The primary core muscles include:
When someone has low visceral fat these are the visible set of abs, usually paired in twos, that make up what we know as the “six-pack.”
Abs are inseparable from a core exercise routine and flex the spine, used most in getting up or leaning forward.
Internal and external obliques are located on the sides of your torso, over the lower ribs, and work with bending and rotation of the body.
This unseen, deep muscle lines the abdomen like an old Victorian corset, holding everything into place and stabilizing the pelvis and lumbar back.
Often forgotten in core strengthening, this muscle trio (gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) comprises our buttocks area.
They extend and protect the back.
This long muscle group runs the length of your spine, from your pelvis to your skull.
As the name suggests, it erects the spine, think of proper posture with this one, but it also helps with moving the trunk side to side, torso rotation, and hip placement.
Additional core muscles aid the lumbar (lower) back, like the multifidus, or work to support other important bodily functions, like the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles.
The Benefits of Core Exercises for Seniors
Core movements and functions provide centralized support for the body.
Though we may be able to get away with neglecting core exercises in our younger years, not in the golden ages.
During the aging process, maintaining core strength with longevity becomes crucial in reducing the risk of injury.
It’s also the key to correcting poor posture and remaining independent in daily activities.
Here is an explanation of the more noteworthy benefits of abdominal strengthening and core exercises for seniors:
Remaining Independent in Daily Activities
Physical activity can be a real challenge with age as the body declines. Too many older people know, the wrong sneeze can throw out your back!
The aging process also tends to affect the less pleasant daily tasks of bodily function, like coughing efficiently and the ability to control bowel and bladder, which the transverse abdominis plays an important role in.
Building a strong core can help hold off these inevitable aspects for seniors and keep you free to manage your own daily activities without a home caregiver (2).
Better Balance and Coordination:
According to the World Health Organization, “falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide”.
The core is your body’s stabilizer — remaining upright and having better balance is one of its main functions. This gives leverage to all the important movements made — keeping your right side up.
Falls are “the most common cause of fractures in older people,” according to the Oxford Textbook of Geriatric Medicine.
A strong core provides better balance in the first place as well as strengthens high-risk areas for fall-related injury in older people, such as helping protect against the all too common hip fracture.
Improving Overall Health
Adding core exercises to an exercise routine can help guard against osteoporosis and are especially helpful for weight distribution and balance improvement in older people, a study published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found (6).
Physical activity and exercise, in general, also helps increase bone density, protects against preventable (but serious) chronic conditions, and, according to a Harvard Health study, reduce visceral fat (the fat that collects under the surface of the abdomen).
Reducing Back Pain
The muscles in your low back aren’t very strong which can lead to lower back pain.
But they can get assistance from the powerful core muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and gluteal muscles.
Although “some studies have shown that specific core exercises are not any more beneficial than general exercise for low back pain,” says physical therapist Patti Mariano Kopasakis, PT, DPT, SCS in an article with the Cleveland Clinic, “what we know is that exercise, in general, can help, and focusing on core muscles may provide some additional benefit” (8).
The 10 Best Core Exercises for Seniors
When it comes to core-strength exercise, less is more. There’s no need for expensive equipment or a gym membership.
In most cases, all you need for core strengthening is a sturdy chair, yoga mat, or comfortable area on your floor.
All of the listed core moves can be done with just bodyweight resistance, however, an exercise band or yoga ball can come in handy for certain movements, limit the risk of injury, and help with balance issues.
You don’t need strong core muscles to start.
It’s a great starting point for seniors, those with limited mobility, and older people of any age!
Keep in mind: an important reason to watch for discomfort, by listening to your body, reduces the risk of injury.
Here are the 10 best core exercises for seniors.
The Best Core Exercises for Seniors
Bridges are one of the best core exercises for older adults because it helps build protection for the lumbar (low) back.
- Begin by laying face up on the floor. With your arms comfortably by your sides, bend your knees and slide your feet up toward your buttocks.
- Plant your feet in position, tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”), tighten your hamstrings and squeeze your glutes before pushing your thighs up off of the surface (toward the ceiling) as you breath out.
- Attempt to remove the bend in your hips making a straight line (while keeping the bend in your knees) and squeeze the glutes at the top while holding for 1-3 seconds.
- Then breathe in as you return your thighs back to the floor. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to loop or tie an exercise band around your legs just above the knees.
In addition to performing the exercise as described, press your knees outward at the same time against the tension.
2. Knee Plank
This is a great beginner core workout exercise.
- The starting position is to lie face down on the floor. Come up on your elbows (forearms flat to the surface), and keep them planted right below each shoulder.
- With your knees and toes pointed down, tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”) and straighten your hips lifting them off of the surface (creating a plank or straight line from knees to head) while placing the pressure on your knees.
- Keep a neutral spine, the natural shape it takes when standing naturally, keeping the hips elevated. Breathe while keeping your stomach tightened and resist letting your shoulders creep up toward your ears (shoulder blades should be down and back).
This is an endurance exercise so try holding it.
Start with 10 seconds and work to increase in 10-second intervals as you are able (e.x., 20, 30, 40 seconds, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to straighten your legs lifting your knees off the floor (your upper body remains on the elbows with forearms flat to the floor).
From heel to head, your body should be one long “plank.”
3. Seated Knee Lifts
This core-strength exercise recruits the hip flexors which help perform proper lifting of the foot while walking, especially when taking a step up a stair.
- The starting position is sitting comfortably but upright on a sturdy chair or surface, ideally with your feet reaching the floor and creating a 90-degree bend in your knees.
- Keep good upper body posture with chin back and shoulder blades “tucked into your back pocket.” Tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”) and lift one knee a couple of inches toward the ceiling.
- Your foot should rise off the floor moving your knee toward the ceiling, hold for 1-3 seconds, release, and repeat with the alternating leg (for instance, right knee, left knee, right knee, etc.).
- Start with 5 knee lifts for each leg. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to add an ankle weight to increase resistance, but if you don’t have any you can also place a household object on top of your knee, such as a book or can of soup.
4. Dead Bugs
This is a great core exercise for older adults because the entire back is supported throughout the movement.
- The start position is to lay face-up on the floor. Lengthen your arms straight up toward the ceiling, bend your knees, and lift your legs up off the surface maintaining a 90-degree angle in your knees.
- Attempt to flatten the curve in your lower back by pressing it downward into the surface you are on.
- Tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”), raise one arm straight above your head to hover over the floor, and straighten the opposite leg to hover over the floor (for instance, alternating between left arm and right foot).
- Hold for 1-3 seconds, bring your arm and leg back up into position, and repeat with the alternate arm and leg. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to add a big exercise or yoga ball on your stomach.
Squeeze the ball tightly with whichever arm and leg are remaining in place while the motion is being performed.
5. Tummy Tucks
This core-strength exercise focuses on the transverse abdominis, which helps tuck the tummy in and hold everything together.
- The starting position is to lay face-up on the floor. Your arms can rest at your side or comfortably on top of your stomach.
- Slide your feet up toward your buttocks, creating a bend in the knees, and lift your feet off the surface creating a 90-degree bend in your hips and knees.
- Attempt to flatten the curve in your lower back by pressing it downward into the surface you are on while tightening the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”).
- Continue breathing while holding the position for 5 seconds.
- This is an endurance exercise so try holding it. Start with 10 seconds and work to increase in 10-second intervals as you are able (e.x., 20, 30, 40 seconds, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, modifications include adding resistance by pushing down on your knees with your hands while holding the position or using a big exercise or yoga ball, placed on your stomach, to do the same thing.
This core-strength exercise targets the glute muscle group in a unique way. It recruits the gluteus medius which plays a large role in supporting the lumbar (low) back.
- The starting position is lying on the side of your body, knees bent, relaxing the rest of your body. The top leg should be directly over the bottom leg, foot on top of the foot, and knee over the knee.
- Tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”).
- Keeping the feet/ankles in contact, raise the top knee toward the ceiling. Do your best not to rotate your body in any way.
- Hold for 1-3 seconds, relax, and repeat. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.). Then roll over and do the other side.
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to loop or tie a resistance band around your legs just above the knees.
7. Bird Dogs
This is one of the essential core-strength exercises used when going to a physical therapist because of how well it reduces the risk of injury.
- Begin on your hands and knees for the starting position. Your hands should be firmly planted under your shoulders (use a fist position if your wrists bother you) and your knees should be directly under the hips.
- Engage your back muscles, resisting the urge to let your shoulders raise toward your ears.
- Tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”).
- Lengthen one foot straight back, lengthening the leg, while reaching the opposite arm straight above the head (for instance, left arm and right foot).
- Squeeze the glutes and try to hold for 1-3 seconds, relax, and repeat with the alternating arm and leg. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, a modification is to hold a small dumbbell in each hand. If you don’t have one, a can of soup will also work well.
8. Heel Slides
This is one of the easy core exercises, at least before modification.
- The start position is to lay face-up on the floor. Your hands can be relaxed comfortably at your side.
- Tighten the stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”), attempt to flatten the curve in your lower back by pressing it downward into the surface you are on, and bend one knee sliding your heel toward your buttocks.
- Hold for 1-3 seconds, release the rest of your body as needed between reps, and repeat with the opposite side (alternating the right foot and left foot).
- Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, instead of sliding your heal up, modifications can include doing a leg raise, keeping the knee straight, and lifting it several inches off the ground, alternating between your right leg and left leg, or “flutter kicking,”.
This leg raise variation really targets the lower abdominal muscles.
9. Seated Position Side Bends
This is a good modification of the side plank for seniors, which can be a challenging movement with a weak core.
- The start position is sitting upright on a sturdy chair or firm surface, feet comfortably resting on the floor.
- Let your palms hang down to the side of your seat while keeping good upper body posture, chest out, and shoulder blades back and down.
- Look straight ahead and lower one hand a few inches toward the floor, allowing your torso to bend to the side while keeping your upper body posture.
- Breath out during the movement and hold for 1-3 seconds, squeezing the oblique muscles in your rib cage.
- Return to neutral and repeat, alternating the opposite side (left arm/right arm) with every repetition, or completing the repetitions fully in one direction (left side first, for instance) and then moving on to the opposite side.
- Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, modifications are to hold small dumbells in either hand to offset your balance.
If you don’t have any, a can of soup will also work well.
Or mimic a wood chop motion with your hands to include your rectus abdominis muscles in addition to the oblique muscles.
10. Sit Backs
This is a great way to substitute doing crunches and one of the great ab exercises for seniors, focusing on the rectus abdominis.
- The starting position is sitting on the floor, knees up, and arms crossed at your chest.
- Tighten your stomach (pull your belly button in “toward your spine”), and breathe out slowly as you lean back.
- Focus on minimal movement or range of motion, leaning back a few inches.
- Stop when you feel your abdominal muscles (your upper or lower abs) working but before you strain the back.
- Sit back up, breathe in at the top, and repeat. Work up to a count of 10 reps and increase your sets as needed (e.g., 2 sets of 10, 3 sets of 10, etc.).
To supercharge this exercise, modifications include holding a small weight.
If you don’t have a small weight, a can of soup will also work well. Or you can rotate the body slightly, think a wood chop motion.
The Takeaway On Core Exercises for Seniors
As a beginner, you may feel overwhelmed just thinking about a core exercise routine — that’s normal!
Most people get caught up in the complexity of a new exercise program, but starting out small with physical activity and listening to the rest of your body is a great way to go.
Make a time and place to start out with one new exercise, preferably, once a day. Watch a video tutorial online if needed.
The best thing is that pretty soon you’ll realize getting in good shape isn’t too bad, it gets easier as you build stamina.
Maybe you’ll notice better balance or reduced bathroom urgency or just general body strength.
When you’re seeing results it’s easy to add a couple more muscle groups to your routine. It becomes enjoyable!
Well, keep it up! Now you know terms like “rectus abdominis” and have key tips for a strong core.
Feel free to pass your midsection mastery on to other seniors and older adults. The new beginner will appreciate it as much as you do.
Also, check out:
- The Right Way to Squats
- How to Do a Reverse Crunch