Core Exercises For Seniors: A Step-By-Step Guide

senior man doing plank

Your core is comprised of the muscles that connect from the spine and hip areas into the pelvis, including the abdominal muscles, back extensors, lateral trunk muscles, and hip muscles. Your core muscles stabilize your body and allow your abdomen, lower back, hips, and pelvis to work together so you can move properly.

Having good core strength is an important part of staying fit and healthy. You use your core muscles every day as you sit, stand, walk, or bend throughout the day. A strong core can improve your range of motion and help you stay fit. Weak core muscles may lead to injuries.

There are several different types of exercises that can help you keep your core muscles strong. If you have limited mobility, there are some great chair exercises you can try. Having mobility issues doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise. It just means you have to get a little creative.

Benefits of Core Exercises

A report in The Journal of Applied Research claims, “Studies show that strengthening core muscles does aid in functional abilities.” Researchers also found that “Activities of daily living (ADLs) are frequently impaired due to weakness in core muscles.” Below are the benefits of doing core exercises.

  • Having a strong core helps you walk, stand, move around, and perform everyday tasks.
  • Engaging in core exercises helps you to maintain good posture.
  • Doing core exercises will help you improve and maintain your muscle strength, especially in your lower back, which may reduce back pain.
  • Since core exercises improve your stability and balance, there is a lower risk of injuries.

Check with Your Doctor

If you are considering starting a new exercise program, it’s important to talk with your doctor first, especially if you haven’t been active for a while or if you’ve been experiencing pain. Your doctor can advise you on which exercises will work best for you and which ones you should avoid. He or she can also help you address any pain-related issues or other physical problems that may be hindering your ability to exercise.

Below are some great core exercises to try at home. Many of them can be modified to adjust to different fitness levels, so if some are too difficult, try using less weight or fewer reps or sets. Muscle System Specialist Jason Weitzer suggests starting with just one set of an exercise two or three days per week and working your way up over time.

Pro Tip from Jason Weitzer, Muscle System Specialist:

Jason Weitzer focuses on working with those who are aged 40 and older. He stresses the importance of balancing out your exercises. He says exercises need to be done in pairs to achieve symmetrical balance, and that neglecting or focusing more on one side or the other can lead to injury and underdevelopment.

Core-Strengthening Exercises to Try

Plank

This exercise engages your entire body and strengthens your core muscles and improves your overall body strength. Aim to hold the plank position for 60 seconds. You could start with 10 – 15 seconds and work your way up by adding a few seconds each time. You could also space your planks out throughout the day rather than doing them all at once.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 3 – 4 planks

reps: Aim for reps of 60 seconds or longer

Steps:

  1. Place your forearms on the floor, with your shoulders above your elbows.
  2. Extend your legs behind you, with your toes on the floor. Keep your body in a straight line.
  3. Make sure your back is straight while tightening your core muscles.
  4. Hold this plank position for several seconds.

Dead Bug

This exercise engages your core muscles to move your arms and legs.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 2 – 3

reps: 5 – 10

Steps:

  1. Lie on your back, with your arms extended toward the ceiling and your knees bent.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. Slowly move your right arm up over your head while extending your left leg so it’s parallel to the floor.
  4. Return your arm and leg to the starting position
  5. Repeat using the opposite arm and leg.

Standing Side Bends

Make sure you don’t lean forward or back while doing this exercise.

difficulty: Easy

sets: 2 – 3

reps: Reps should be 30 seconds to one minute long.

Steps:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. While holding a dumbbell in your hands, extend your arms toward the ceiling.
  3. Bend your torso to the right, and then return to a straight position.
  4. Repeat on the left side.

Wood Chops

You can modify this exercise by using a heavier or lighter dumbbell.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 2 – 3

reps: 10 – 12

Steps:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. While holding one dumbbell with both hands, raise your arms and rotate your torso to the right side so the dumbbell is above your right shoulder.
  4. Squat while rotating your torso to the left and lower the dumbbell diagonally down across your body so it’s near your left hip.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Glute Bridge

This exercise engages your hamstrings and your glute muscles while strengthening your core.

difficulty: Easy

sets: 2 – 3

reps: 12 – 16

Steps:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your hands down at your sides.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. Keep your back straight as you slowly lift your hips up from the floor.
  4. Lower your body back to the starting position.

Leg Lifts

This is a great exercise to do to strengthen your core muscles. It’s important to keep pushing your lower back down toward the floor and avoid arching your back as you do this.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 3 – 4

reps: 15 – 20

Steps:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. While keeping your legs together, push your lower back toward the floor, tighten your thigh muscles, and slowly raise your legs up so they are perpendicular to your body.
  4. Slowly lower your legs back to the starting position, so they are just slightly off the floor.

The Superman

The Superman exercise engages your entire body as it strengthens your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. You can modify this exercise to make it easier by raising one arm and leg at a time or raising your arms or legs separately.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 2 – 3

reps: 10 – 12

Steps:

  1. Lie face-down on the floor.
  2. Extend your arms and legs out straight.
  3. Slowly raise both your arms and legs so they are several inches off the floor.
  4. Hold this position for several seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position

Chair Exercises to Try

Seated Knee-to Chest

This exercise strengthens your core muscles as you lift your legs toward your body. You can also do this exercise with one leg at a time if you prefer.

difficulty: Easy

sets: 2 –  3

reps: 8 – 12

Steps:

  1. Sit on the front edge of a chair.
  2. Tighten your core muscles and keep your back straight.
  3. Grab the seat with your hands for stability.
  4. Extend both legs out in front of you, and point your toes toward the ceiling.
  5. Slowly raise both legs at the same time as you bend your knees, pulling them toward your chest.
  6. Extend your legs in front of you again.

Extended Leg Raises

difficulty: Advanced

sets: 2 –  3

reps: 8 – 12

Steps:

  1. Sit on a chair, near the front edge.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. Grab the seat with your hands for stability.
  4. Extend your feet out, and point your toes.
  5. Without moving the center of your body, slowly lift one leg up as high as you can, then lower it back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat with the other leg.

Tummy Twists

You can modify this exercise as needed by using a weighted object, such as a medicine ball or a dumbbell.

difficulty: Medium

sets: 2 –  3

reps: 8 – 10

Steps:

  1. Sit on a chair, near the front edge with a medicine ball or similar object in your hands.
  2. Tighten your core muscles.
  3. Extend your arms out in front of your body with elbows bent while holding the medicine ball in both hands.
  4. Keep the ball in front of your body as you rotate the top of your body to the right, then rotate back to the center.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Conclusion

Having a strong core makes it easier for you to sit, stand, walk, and maintain your mobility, which is especially important for older adults. Without strong core muscles, you would have difficulty using your arms and legs since they depend on your core’s strength to work properly. To improve your core strength, try some of these exercises, and see what works for you. Remember to talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Sources:

https://jrnlappliedresearch.com/articles/Vol5Iss3/Petrofsky3.pdf

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/core-exercises/art-20044751

https://www.shape.com/fitness/tips/why-its-so-important-have-core-strength

https://www.coachmag.co.uk/back-exercises/1726/how-to-do-the-superman-exercise

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