The key to staying functionally fit and injury-free as we age is to strengthen the core muscles that surround our trunk and support the lower back. Since the core is the center of the body, it is pretty much involved in all our daily movement and mobility. A strong core improves coordination, balance, and flexibility.
“Your core muscles provide stability for the moving parts above and below them — the mid-back, or thoracic spine that helps you twist and turn, and the hips that move you up, down, back, or forward,” says Marty Boehm, a physical therapist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The core extends from the lower rib cage to the buttocks and includes muscles in the front, the internal and external obliques along the sides, and muscles along the spine and buttocks.
Good old sit-ups and crunches are no longer recommended to strengthen core muscles as they are limited to few muscle groups and could pose risks for seniors.
“They’re dangerous because you’re pulling on your neck,” explains Boehm. “And they don’t train your core. They train the hip flexor muscles. If those muscles get too strong, they pull on the lower back and contribute to back pain.”
Bryan Sobolewski, an ACE certified trainer, who developed the innovative R.A.M.P method of restoring functional movement using a mind-body approach, tells Newsmax that he changed his approach to strengthening core muscles after “seeing client after client with lower back problems.”
“As the core weakens, everything else suffers like gait, posture, mobility and stability,” Sobolewski says. “These things can only be improved with a strong, stable core and spine.”
The best way to train the core is to involve several muscle groups at once, just the way you would use the core to perform everyday tasks, such as lifting groceries from the trunk of your car or climbing stairs.
Here are three safe ways to strengthen your core:
- Dead bug. Start by lying on your back with arms and legs raised to the sky. Slowly lower and raise one leg at a time for 12 repetitions on each leg. As your master this move you can lower and raise the opposite arm overhead at the same time as the leg. This exercise should be performed slowly and with control, says Sobolewski.
- Bridges. “Anyone can do a bridge,” says Boehm, who adds that this exercise is effective because it creates rigidity from the pelvis to the rib cage and all the way from the belly button around to the back. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your arms at your sides. Tighten your buttocks muscles, lift your hips up until they form a straight line with your hips and shoulders. Hold, then slowly return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions. “The whole region becomes solid, and it creates a contraction of all the muscle groups, like a corset,” he tells Harvard Health Publishing.
- Plank. Just as the name suggests, this core-building exercise helps build strength in the core, arms, and shoulder muscles as you bring your body into the top of a pushup position and hold it steady and stiff like a wooden plank. Beginners can perform planks on their hands and knees. Tighten your abdominal muscles and lower your upper body onto your forearms. Align your shoulders directly over your elbows, while keeping your feet in the air behind you. Keep your back straight while holding in the plank position. Start either plank version with 30 seconds and work your way up to a minute every day.
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