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Core Strengthening Exercises for Seniors

author image Nick Ng
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.
Core Strengthening Exercises for Seniors
Two senior women hold a yoga pose in a studio. Photo Credit Dmitriy Shironosov/iStock/Getty Images

Core strength is essential to reduce the risk of falls and injuries for seniors, and therefore, it must be incorporated into regular workouts. The core consists of the abdominal region, hips and back, including the deep muscles along the spine. These muscles work with your legs and arms to move your body in different directions while maintaining control of your position and movement. The type of core training that you do depends on your goals, fitness status and exercise preference.


Core strength training can reduce your risk of falls by challenging the nervous system to maintain balance and movement coordination. In a 2013 mega-analysis published in "Sports Medicine," researchers concluded that core strength training can increase strength by an average of 30 percent and balance and functional performance by 23 percent among seniors. Core strength training also had a high exercise adherence rate of 92 percent, based on a study of 32 older adults, according to a 2013 German study published in "Gerontology." This sample population showed significant improvements in dynamic balance, spine mobility and muscle strength. Therefore, all types of training programs for seniors should emphasize core strength training.

Integration Versus Isolation Exercises

Machine-based exercises hardly improve core strength and stability, even though they provide some muscular strength gain and cardiovascular improvements. An American study published in the March 2013 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" showed that exercises that move muscles that are farther away from the trunk, such as the buttocks and deltoids, provided higher core muscle activation than isolated exercises that target only one muscle group, such as situps and back extensions. A Norwegian study published in the May 2012 issue of "European Journal of Applied Physiology" showed that seated dumbbell presses had an 81 percent lower activity rate in the rectus abdominis than standing dumbbell presses. Therefore, seniors should strive to perform standing exercises when possible, rather than sitting-down versions. Integration exercises, which number in the dozens, include squats, standing rows, medicine ball chops, lunges and split-stance lateral dumbbell raises.

Chops and Lifts

Chops and lifts can help seniors improve rotational power and core stability, especially if they need to reach for something across their bodies or lift something off the floor. These exercises involve moving your arms in a diagonal pattern across your body with or without turning your torso. The chop requires moving arms from a high position to a low position across your body, while the lift moves your arms from a low position to a high position, says physical therapist Gray Cook. These exercises provide a foundation to many rotational movements that incorporate all core muscles to work together, which is ideal for the recreational golfer, bowler or dancer. Cook recommends that you use a cable column machine with a straight bar or a handle. Start in the kneeling position on both knees to work on hip and spine stability as you perform the chop and lift with very little rotation. Once you can perform this exercise easily, progress to a half-kneeling and standing position. You may also perform these exercises with a medicine ball or an elastic band.

Meditative Exercises

Core strength training can help older adults reduce their fear of falling. Yoga and tai chi are forms of meditation and movement that improve core strength and stability and bring greater awareness of your body, such as weight-shifting, breathing, joint mobility and relaxation. A study published in 2010 in "Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation" showed that seniors who participated in a 12-week yoga program had a 6 percent reduction of fear of falling, an increase of static balance of 4 percent and improved hip flexibility of 34 percent. In a review published in 2010 in "Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy," researchers reviewed 19 qualified studies that showed the effects of tai chi on balance and falls among older adults. The greatest improvements shown were a reduction of fear of falling, better single-leg balance and better posture, all of which require some degree of core stability.

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