The Importance of Core Muscles as We Age

23 May 2024

As we get older, maintaining strong core muscles becomes increasingly important for our overall health and well-being. Let’s explore what these muscles are, what they do, and why keeping them strong is crucial as we age.

What is Your Core Made Of?

Rectus Abdominis

  • Location: Runs vertically along the front of the abdomen.
  • Function:

Flexion of the Spine: Allows you to bend forward.

Stabilization: Supports the spine during movements.

Transversus Abdominis

  • Location: The deepest abdominal muscle, wrapping around the spine.
  • Function:

Compression of the Abdominal Contents: Acts like a corset, stabilizing the spine and pelvis.

Core Stabilization: Provides a strong foundation for movement.

Internal and External Obliques

  • Location: Sides of the abdomen; external obliques are on top, and internal obliques lie beneath them.
  • Function:

Rotation and Lateral Flexion of the Spine: Allows twisting and side-bending movements.

Stabilization: Helps maintain posture and balance during activities.

Lower Back Muscles

Erector Spinae

  • Location: A group of muscles running along the spine.
  • Function: 
    • Extension of the Spine: Helps you stand up straight from a bent position.
    • Lateral Flexion and Rotation: Assists in bending sideways and rotating the spine.
    • Stabilization: Maintains posture and stability during movement.

Pelvic Floor Muscles

  • Location: Stretch like a hammock from the pubic bone to the tailbone.
  • Function:
    • Support of Pelvic Organs: Supports the bladder, intestines, and, in women, the uterus.
    • Control of Urination and Defecation: Helps control the release of urine and faeces.
    • Stabilization: Contributes to overall core stability.

Hip Muscles

Hip Flexors

  • Location: Front of the hip, including muscles like the iliopsoas.
  • Function:

Flexion of the Hip: Lifts the leg towards the torso.

Stabilization: Assists in maintaining posture and balance.

Gluteal Muscles

  • Location: Buttocks, including the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus.
  • Function:

Extension, Abduction, and Rotation of the Hip: Moves the thigh backwards, sideways, and rotates it.

Stabilization: Provides stability to the pelvis and supports the lower back during movement.

Why Are Strong Core Muscles So Important?

Enhancing Balance and Stability

  • Preventing Falls: Strong core muscles help you stay steady on your feet, reducing the risk of falls. Falls are a major concern for older adults because they can lead to serious injuries like broken hips and knees.
  • Maintaining Good Posture: A strong core helps you keep good posture, preventing the stooped posture often seen in older age.

Reducing the Risk of Injuries

  • Protecting Your Back: Core muscles support your spine, helping to protect it and reduce the risk of back pain and injuries.
  • Decreasing Strain on Joints: A strong core takes some of the load off your joints, helping to prevent joint pain and injuries. Maintaining a healthy weight can help protect our joints, but being overweight can add undue pressure to the joints.

Improving Mobility and Independence

  • Easier Movement: Strong core muscles make it easier to move around, whether it’s bending over, reaching for something, or twisting your body.
  • Staying Independent: Good mobility means you can perform daily tasks on your own, such as getting out of bed, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries, helping you maintain your independence.

Supporting Functional Strength

  • Daily Activities: Strong core muscles help you perform everyday tasks more easily, like lifting things, standing up from a chair, or walking.
  • Physical Activities: They also help you stay active in hobbies and activities you enjoy, such as gardening, walking, or playing with grandchildren.

Alleviating Pain

  • Reducing Back Pain: Strengthening your core can alleviate lower back pain, which is common in older adults. A strong core supports your lower back and improves posture.
  • Preventing Other Pain: Weak core muscles can cause other muscles to overwork, leading to pain in areas like your hips, knees, and shoulders. Strengthening the core can prevent this.

Aiding Breathing and Digestion

  • Better Breathing: The diaphragm, a key muscle for breathing, works better when your core is strong, improving your respiratory function.
  • Improving Digestion: Strong abdominal muscles support your internal organs and can help with digestion and bowel movements.

Enhancing Overall Quality of Life

  • Boosting Confidence: When your core is strong, you feel more confident in your ability to move and stay active, reducing fear of falls or injuries.
  • Staying Engaged: Being able to participate in social and physical activities helps keep you mentally and emotionally healthy.

How to Maintain Core Strength as We Age

Exercise Regularly

  • Core Exercises: Incorporate exercises that target the core, like planks, bridges, Russian twists, and leg raises.
  • Overall Strength and Balance: Participate in activities that enhance overall strength and balance, such as yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.

Stay Active

Daily Physical Activity: Include physical activities in your daily routine, like walking, swimming, cycling, weight training, gardening, or dancing.

Eat Well

Balanced Diet: Maintain a balanced diet with plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals to support muscle health. Aim for a protein intake of 80grams to 150grams per kg of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 60kg, you should aim for approximately 60 to 90 grams of protein daily.

Practice Good Posture

Mindful Posture: Be mindful of your posture while sitting, standing, and moving to support your core muscles. Avoid slouching or curving your spine.

Seek Professional Advice

Fitness and Physical Therapy: Consult with fitness trainers or physical therapists to develop a safe and effective core-strengthening program tailored to your needs.

Strong core muscles are essential as we age because they help improve balance, prevent injuries, enhance mobility, reduce pain, and support overall health and independence. Regular exercise, staying active, eating well, practicing good posture, and seeking professional guidance are key to maintaining core strength and enjoying a better quality of life as we grow older.