When was the last time you felt delighted about working out your midsection? If your answer is something like “Ha! Never,” it would not be surprising. However, if you shift your thinking from the exercise to the effects, you’ll see that core fitness is actually worth getting excited about.
In a nationwide survey of seniors, the leading ageing-related concern was maintaining physical fitness. Core strength is the key to physical freedom. When you start making core exercise part of your daily routine, you’ll begin to feel the effects almost immediately. You’ll experience a greater range of motion and more control over your balance, not to mention feel more confident in your clothes.
As you might have guessed, core strength is about more than just being able to do 100 sit-ups. Instead, developing core strength is a systematic approach to relieving pain and preventing injuries. The core supports the spine, and if your core is weak, other major muscle groups have to compensate. This tends to throw off the alignment of your entire body, leading to pain in the back, hips, and knees, and making you more likely to lose your balance.
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Learning Your Muscles
Your core is the intricate network of bones, nerves, ligaments, and tendons, along with all the muscles, that attach to the spine. These elements wrap all the way around the body, like a girdle, and even extend down below the hips.
To help you better understand the muscles of the core, we’re going to get a bit anatomical. As your new core exercises become second nature, you’ll think “Aha!” as you feel the different muscles working.
Located on the front of your body on either side of the navel, the transverse abdominis muscles are layered below the obliques and form the innermost of the flat muscles of the abdomen. The transverse abdominis aid in breathing and are extremely important in stabilizing the lower spine and pelvis as you move.
Your obliques extend diagonally from your ribs to your pelvis and consist of two sets of muscles: The external obliques are located directly on top of the internal obliques, with the muscle fibers in each group running perpendicular to one another. The internal and external obliques work in tandem and enable you to bend your torso sideways, rotate your torso, and round your spine. They also help brace the spine, as when you’re about to lift a heavy object.
Ah, the coveted six-pack. These highly sought-after muscles are the rectus abdominis, which run vertically along either side of your abdomen from the sternum to the pubic bone. They’re what help you bend your torso forward and tilt your pelvis.
Map of Major Core Muscles
Transversospinalis and Erector spinae
These two muscle groups run along the spine all the way from the head to the pelvis. These very important muscles stabilize the vertebral column and enable spinal movement, which is critical for so many of the motions you go through in your everyday activities. The spinal muscles play a big role in proprioception, which is your awareness of the position of your body, helping keep you balanced even when you’re not consciously thinking about it.
The latissimus dorsi (often referred as the “lats”) are the largest muscles in the upper body. This muscle group runs across your back from just below your shoulder blades down to your pelvis and helps stabilize the spine and move the shoulders.
Situated at the base of the chest, this muscle separates the chest from the abdomen. When you inhale, it contracts and flattens, creating a vacuum-like effect. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, and the air is pushed out of your lungs. In addition to aiding breathing, a strong diaphragm helps prevent acid reflux.
The Benefits of a Strong Core
The core is key to a stable and mobile body. Let’s take a look at just a few of the many science-backed benefits of strengthening your core.
If you have a weak core, you may feel unsteady on your feet. In fact, falls are the leading cause of injury and death for adults older than 65. Strengthening the muscles that wrap around the abdomen provides stability to the “trunk” of your body. This helps you stand steadily and move more freely.
When your core muscles are weak, your posture suffers, and other muscles must make up for the lack of support. This leads to back pain, which can range from annoying to debilitating. Building core strength will help you maintain proper posture while sitting, standing, and walking, which alleviates the pressure on other muscle groups and, in turn, reduces back pain.
Stay mobile and remain independent
Golf, tennis, swimming, gardening, traveling, volunteer work . . . We could go on about all the activities that motivate you to stay mobile. The bottom line is this: Research has shown that greater mobility is linked with a higher quality of life in older adults.
Three out of four adults in your age group say they want to stay in their current home as they age, yet only 46 percent believe that doing so is a realistic possibility. Building a strong core—and in turn, greater balance and mobility— can help you safely stay in the home you love for as long as possible.
Better overall health outlook
A slimmer waistline can boost your confidence, but it also lowers your risk of chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Don’t Forget to Stretch
If you fail to stretch your muscles regularly, they shorten and become tight. Then when you go to use them, they’re unable to extend all the way, putting you at greater risk of muscle strains and tears. To reduce this risk, it’s important to do some light stretching, not only before doing your daily exercises but a few times throughout the day.
Stretching also comes with other benefits besides injury prevention, many of which relate to your larger goals of staying mobile and independent in your senior years. Stretching gets your blood pumping to different areas of the body, which wards off painful inflammation. When your muscles are limber, it’s easier for you to stand up straight and keep your spine in proper alignment. If you’ve ever felt the relief that comes with taking a big stretch after a long drive, you know firsthand the good that stretching can do for tight, tensed-up muscles.
Go slowly when stretching, and never force your body beyond what’s comfortable. Proper form is more important than how far you can stretch. Many of the exercises in this program also double as effective stretches. The Metronome, Triangle, and Cat Cow exercises are a few such examples.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
Practicing proper breathing while exercising keeps oxygen flowing throughout your body, allowing you to exercise more comfortably, more safely, and for longer periods. Breathing, like stretching, promotes good circulation, which is beneficial for reducing pain and inflammation.
Consistent rhythmic breathing helps prevent blood pressure spikes and painful cramping during exercise as well as reducing the incidence of hernias.
Plus, focusing on your breathing is a great way to stay present with the exercise and get the most out of every movement.
If you’re new to exercise or just getting back into the swing of it, controlling your breath can feel unnatural. Like exercise itself, breathing properly will get easier over time. Let’s discuss a few tips to help you breathe properly through your core exercises.
Practice good posture. Standing or sitting up straight expands your chest, which allows for full, deep breaths and prevents panting.
Inhale while resting and exhale while exerting. To use a crunch as an example, this would mean you’d inhale while lying flat on your back and exhale as you crunch upward.
Don’t hold your breath. Breathe in and out at a measured pace, doing your best to keep a consistent rhythm. One trick to help with this is listening to a playlist while you do the moves. Some people find it helpful to breathe in and out in time with the music.
If you can’t catch your breath, slow down or take a break. Raise your arms overhead and breathe in. Lower them in front of you as you breathe out deeply, repeating until your heart rate slows. Start your exercises again when you feel comfortable or pick back up the next day.
Exercise Myths and Mistakes
Excuses for why you can’t make fitness a priority come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are the simple result of misinformation or practices that have been internalized through years of bad habits. To help you beat the excuses, let’s address some of those exercise myths and mistakes proactively.
There are a few common exercise myths that many seniors buy into. Beware these exercise untruths, which can prevent you from reaching your full potential and can even lead to injuries.
I’m too old to exercise.
Tell that to one of my students, Peg, who recently turned 99 and still shows up to class regularly. Barring some very specific health conditions, exercise is a good thing for people of any age. A regular exercise routine—even one that you start after the age of 50—can significantly reduce your risk of premature death compared with someone the same age who doesn’t exercise at all. If you have specific concerns about why exercise might not be appropriate for you, talk them over with your doctor before getting started.
It’s too late to start.
This is, to put it plainly, a bunch of baloney. The science on this subject is actually pretty amazing. Researchers studied two groups of exercisers over the age of 60: people who’d been exercising twice a week for the last 20 years and people who didn’t have a consistent workout routine. They followed the individuals within each group before and after workouts to see how proteins were developing within their muscles. Here’s the amazing part: There was no difference between the two groups in the rate of muscle synthesis. So, even if you’ve never worked out before, you have just as much to gain from starting now than someone who’s been at it for years.
I need to use weights to get a good strength workout.
Building strength is not about the weight. It’s about resistance and making your muscles work against it. The weight of your body and limbs, combined with gravity, offers plenty of resistance to build strength. Some of the exercises in this program do call for weights, but the majority of them do not. You can even choose to modify the weighted exercises by doing them without weights.
Exercise will make my arthritis or osteoporosis worse.
Oh, how we wish this myth would go away. The reality is that lack of exercise is actually much worse for stiff, painful joints. Think of your arthritis or osteoporosis like a squeaky, rusty bicycle wheel. Exercising is like adding lubricant, which helps the wheel turn smoothly. The longer the bicycle—or in this case, your body—sits around without moving, the rustier it gets. Gentle movement is one of the best things you can do to ward off pain from these conditions.
Everyone makes mistakes, but hopefully a little forewarning will help you avoid making some of these errors.
Technique matters. Before you worry about building up the number of reps you can do, focus on getting your form right. Proper technique not only helps you avoid injury but also ensures you’re getting the most out of the hard work you’re putting into each exercise. If you have existing pain, poor technique can make it worse. We’ve included detailed instructions and a diagram with every exercise to help you achieve the proper positioning for each move.
Only doing cardio.
Walking every day is certainly admirable, but it’s not enough to ward off the effects of aging, such as muscle loss and weakened bones. Incorporating resistance training, such as the exercises in this program, is imperative if you want to maintain the strong muscles and bones that allow you to live an independent and enjoyable life. Aim to do some type of resistance training a minimum of three times per week.
Skipping balance training.
What do you do when you want to get better at something? You practice. Believe it or not, you have to give your brain practice at being off balance if you want your body to react and catch you when you trip, slip, or fall. You can trick your brain into practicing “falling” by incorporating balance exercises into your regular routine. The Side Crunch with Leg Lift and the Diagonal Sit Back are two great exercises that will improve your balance in addition to strengthening your core.
Everybody Is Different
The moves in the following modules are for everyone, whether you’ve been an avid exerciser for years or it’s hard to remember the last time you set foot in a gym. The exercises are designed to be easy, accessible, and best of all, effective. Remember, take it slow. There’s no need to try all 40 moves the first day.
Everyone will have different thresholds for the levels of movement and exertion they feel comfortable with. Even your own thresholds can change from one day to the next. You might feel great blasting through five or six exercises today but only be up for one or two tomorrow.
It’s a medical fact that your body sends up red flags to tell you when something is wrong. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded, for example, are red flags that it’s time to take a break or stop. It’s normal to feel mild discomfort when exercising and some soreness afterward, but if you experience sharp or persistent pain, your body is probably saying “Stop!”
Finally, give yourself time to rest. Although it’s ideal to get some kind of movement every day, challenging workouts are not recommended seven days a week. Instead, allow yourself one to two days a week for recovery. You can still do something on these days to get your body moving, such as walking, swimming, or putting on some music and dancing, but don’t push yourself to max exertion.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
Consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before starting this (or any) exercise program. This is particularly important if you have a history of high blood pressure or heart disease; if you have ever experienced chest pain when exercising; if you smoke, have high cholesterol, or are obese; or if you have a medical condition that could be made worse by a change in physical activity.
Only a professional can determine if the routines in this program are appropriate for your needs. Do not start this program if your healthcare provider advises against it. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain, or shortness of breath at any time while exercising, stop immediately and consult with your healthcare provider.
Should You Take Supplements With Core Exercises?
Core exercises boost fat loss by enhancing both the afterburn after exercise and increasing muscle size, thus increasing resting metabolism.
When combined with a healthy diet, it will further increase the loss of excess body fat – and may also have other beneficial effects.
Resurge is of the most popular weight loss supplements that promise to help you shed pounds and sleep better. Because studies have shown that sleep deprivation is associated with deficiencies of growth hormone and elevated levels of cortisol, both of which contribute to obesity.
While other supplements promote nutritional factors, meal replacement forms, appetite suppression, or similar effects, Resurge boosts your body’s metabolism by increasing your core temperature. However, before making any purchases, you might want to read some Resurge reviews because the supplement industry is rife with scams.
It should be noted that pills or supplements only work when combined with a healthy weight-loss diet. Supplements are ineffective on their own and are hardly a solution to obesity.
Besides, it’s always best to talk with your doctor before you start taking a supplement, especially if you already take medications or have health concerns.