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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Cziprusz

Core Strength for Seniors: Five Functional Exercises for your Core

Your core is your body’s power center.  Spanning from your ribcage to your pelvis and hips, and encompassing all the muscles in your back, sides, and pelvic floor, the core muscles work together to provide stability for every movement you make. Whether you’re rising from a chair, carrying groceries, or simply bending over to tie your shoe, your core is hard at work.  



Contrary to popular belief, having a strong core isn’t just about showing off six-pack abs.  A strong core can help improve balance, reduce fall risk, and maintain mobility and independence with age.  Core strength can also help protect against back pain by alleviating stress and strain on the spine.  Maintaining core strength is important to staying active and healthy with age. 


Maintaining core strength as you get older requires a bit more focus and intentionality.  You can strengthen your core muscles through a combination of whole body exercises and targeted core workouts.  An important foundational skill is learning how to engage your abdominal muscles effectively using the abdominal brace technique. An abdominal brace refers to an isometric contraction of your abdominal muscles in which you maintain a neutral spine position.  You can practice an abdominal brace when laying on your back by gently pulling your belly button down and in toward your spine. You should feel some tension in your superficial abdominal muscles. Practice this technique while maintaining steady breathing, gradually increasing the duration of your holds.


Once you feel comfortable with abdominal bracing, you can add this technique to any exercise to enhance core engagement.  Whether you are practicing good posture while sitting in a chair or taking a leisurely walk, consciously engaging your abdominal muscles can significantly improve core activation and strength over time.


Here are some great functional exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups, promote core stability, and mimic everyday movements to enhance functional mobility.  Practice using your abdominal brace technique with each of the exercises below:


  1. Bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and fleet flat on the bed or floor. Engage your abdominal muscles by gently pulling your belly button down and in.  Then raise your hips up, hold 3 seconds, and slowly lower to starting position. Maintain abdominal brace while raising and lowering.  Target 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions as able.



  1. Dead Bug: Lie on your back with your arms extended toward the ceiling and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower one arm and the opposite leg toward the floor, keeping your lower back pressed into the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. Target 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions as able.



  1. Opposite Arm and Leg Raise: Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Slowly extend one arm forward and the opposite leg backward, maintaining a neutral spine. Hold for 3 seconds, then return to the starting position and switch sides.  If necessary, you can modify by alternating between lifting your legs for a set and lifting your arms for a set.  Once you feel more comfortable, combine. Target 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions as able.




  1. Plank: Begins in a push-up position with hands directly under shoulders. Engage your core and hold your body in a straight line without sagging or lifting hips. Modify as needed by completing from your elbows/forearms to accommodate wrist issues. Drop to your knees to scale down the intensity. A countertop plank is another great option that works well for beginners or individuals with shoulder issues. The goal is to engage your abdominal muscles while keeping your spine in a neutral position.  Target 5 repetitions for 10 second holds and increase hold times as able. 

 



  1. Squat: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your chest lifted and core engaged, lower your hips down and back as if sitting down into a chair, hold 3 seconds, then press through your heels to return to the starting position. Target 1-2 sets of 8-12 repetitions as able.



As always, begin any new exercise regimen gradually, prioritizing proper form over repetitions.  The more you are able to engage your abdominal muscles during your day to day activities, the better trained your core will be. Listen to your body and modify as needed. With consistent practice, you can build a stronger core and positively impact your overall health.  A stable core is key to your balance, mobility, and maintaining your functional independence with age. 

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