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The Best 8 Core Exercises for Seniors

Jun 26, 2019

Rocky Jorgensen, a Care Team Manager at our Central District and Renton, WA practices shares why exercise is so important for seniors and how to incorporate the best core exercises into your fitness plan.

Whether you would like to strengthen your heart or improve your mobility, exercise is important for everyone, regardless of age. However, as a senior, there are additional benefits that can significantly improve your health and quality of life -- and core exercises are the perfect way to get moving.

By focusing on your core strength, you can improve many aspects of your life, including your overall strength and mobility. Increasing activity can also lead to  positive changes in short and long-term health.

If you've been considering a new workout routine, one that is simple, yet effective, this guide is for you.

Why Exercise is so Important for Seniors

After the age of 40, you lose an average of 3 to 5 percent of your muscle mass each decade. Over time, this impacts everything from your balance to your mobility and can ultimately impact your independence. With benefits ranging from improved cognitive health to a reduced risk of chronic disease, there are many reasons why you should incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

1. Reduce your risk of disease

Exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. In one recent study, published in the European Heart Journal, researchers found that higher levels of fitness can halve your risk of heart attack. They also found that even small improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness resulted in significant heart health benefits. 

2. Reduce your risk of falls

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three individuals ages 65 and older will experience a fall. Introducing simple exercises into your routine can help you hone your balance, reducing your risk of falls. More importantly, by preventing falls, you can reduce your risk of a fracture or even a life-threatening injury.

3. Enhances mental and cognitive health

The connection between exercise and positive mental health is well-understood, as physical activity has been shown to naturally combat conditions ranging from depression to PTSD. For seniors, regular exercise has also been shown to significantly reduce your risk of dementia.

The Alzheimer's Society, after combining the results of 11 studies, found that regular exercise can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia by 30 percent andAlzheimer’s by 45 percent.

In terms of mental health, exercising also offers an opportunity to socialize. You can ask a friend or family member to begin your new exercise routine with you. As you become more active, you can also get involved in a community yoga or swimming class -- both of which are great for your muscles and joints.

Incorporate These 8 Core Exercises Into Your Routine

It is never too late to take back control of your health. Core or abdominal exercises are a great way to strengthen your abdomen and back muscles, helping to improve your balance and maintain a healthy weight.

In fact, every movement that you make is generated from your core, which is why you'll want to focus on this area. As you begin to strengthen your core, you'll also support and stabilize your spine, allowing you to bend, reach and twist more easily.

Please note: Before you begin any of the following exercises, speak with your doctor about undertaking a new exercise plan. In this case, you should inquire about any possible limitations regarding your muscles, joints, cardiac risk and other physical concerns. At One Medical Seniors, your doctor or health coach can also share a schedule of local fitness classes or provide you with some exercises to try at home when getting started. 

1. Semi-sits

Often referred to as chair squats, semi-sits are a great way to strengthen your knee while encouraging blood flow around your joints. To begin, stand in front of your chair with your feet hip-width apart. Contract your core stomach muscles and then slowly lower your body towards the chair, bending your knees as if you were going to sit down. Once you lightly touch the seat, return your starting position.

Tip: Imagine you are facing a wall and your toes are touching the wall. When bending your knees, make sure they do not go over your toes, or they would hit the “wall”. Be sure to push up with your heels and always keep your head up.

2. Seated tummy twists

While sitting in a chair, keep your back flat against the chair and your feet flat on the ground. Interlock your fingers, holding your fist outwards as you extend your arms. Without moving your legs, begin twisting your torso all the way to your right (your hands should still be out in front of you). Hold for two seconds before moving back into your original position, then repeat on the other side.

Tip: If you are focusing on strength, instead of interlocking your fingers, hold two lightweight dumbbells. Do not over-twist.

3. Seated side bends

To complete this exercise, simply sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. As you keep one hand on the side of the chair, lift your other arm to the sky. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, stretch your body to the side (towards your hand on the chair). Come up and repeat on the opposite side.

Tip: It is very important that you keep your back straight, bending at your torso only. Focus your attention on the stretch. If you'd like to challenge yourself, hold a lightweight object in your hand that's raised above your head.

4. Knee extensions

Once again, begin sitting upright in a chair, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend one knee so that your leg is straight with your toe pointing towards the sky. Hold and then slowly move your leg back into its starting position. Switch sides, completing 5-10 repetitions per leg.

Tip: Exhale as you move your leg outward, inhaling as you move your leg back inward. Move slowly, trying not to jerk your leg. Also, be sure to use your full range of motion, extending as far as is comfortable.

5. Abdominal bracing

This exercise can be completed any time, anywhere, helping to strengthen your core and improve your posture. To complete this exercise, stand tall and draw in your belly button towards your spine. Try to contract your abdominal muscles. Hold this position for as long as you feel comfortable.

Tip: Start small, holding for just a few seconds. Repeat daily, holding this position 1-2 seconds longer each day. Also, be sure to practice your breathing. It is common for individuals to hold an abdominal brace without breathing which can make your spine unstable.

6. Bridge

While this is an excellent exercise for strengthening your core, lower back, hips, and glutes, do not attempt bridge exercises if you can not easily get up and down off the floor. 

You should always consult your primary care physician before beginning a new exercise or if you have any exercise concerns.

To begin, lay on the floor with your face up, bending your legs. As you engage your glute muscles, push your hips away from the floor and hold for 1-2 seconds. Bring your body back down to the floor and repeat five times.

Tip: If possible, engage your ab muscles and continue to breathe throughout the entire duration of the exercise.

7. Seated knee lifts

You have two options here, depending on your mobility. You can either begin by sitting on a mat on the floor or, if you're more comfortable, sit on a bench. Moving slowly, bring both of your knees in towards your chest. Return your leg to the starting position, repeating as many times as you feel comfortable.

Tip: Do not move too quickly. This exercise should be slow and controlled -- do not allow gravity to quickly pull your leg back down into its original position.

8. Kneeling rear leg raise

If you feel confident, get down on your hands and knees, distributing your weight evenly. As you engage your core, extend your left leg outward behind you so that it's slightly off the ground (try to point your toes). As your leg is out straight, try to lift it as much as you can without experiencing any pain. Do not arch your back. Repeat on the opposite side.

Tip: If you can, complete this exercise in 10-minute intervals. Move slowly so that you do not sustain any injuries.

Regardless of why you'd like to become more active, introducing a new exercise regimen into your routine can help you improve so many aspects of your health and overall life. Once you become comfortable, be sure to incorporate upper body exercises as well.

The most important thing is to start slow so that your body can adjust to regular core movements. If you aren't fond of exercising, make this process as enjoyable as possible. Consider exercising with a friend, putting on music or completing your exercises outside to encourage consistent, regular intervals.

Get into a routine, ensuring that you incorporate at least 20-30 minutes of low-impact exercise daily -- and always be aware of your body. Remember, quality is more important than quantity when it comes to senior fitness, so focus on steady, slow, controlled movements.

For more information, please refer to this guide: 4 Exercises Seniors Should Do Every Day, and follow our blog for all health-related resources for seniors.

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