You hear a lot about your “core” and how important it is for strength and mobility. Most seniors have lost much of the strength in their core many years past. In fact it’s right up there with your legs as one of the first areas of your body to go as you age. In Part one of this two part series, I’ll discuss the importance and the value of developing and maintaining a strong core.
First of all, let’s be sure we are of a common mind as to what the core really consists of. Technically, it’s called the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, and consists of 29 individual muscles. It consists of the area generally from your butt to just below your arm pits, and includes many internal stabilization and support muscle structures as well as those you can see.
Strengthening the core is much more than being able to do sit-ups and crunches. Seniors need a strong, stable and flexible core for their bodies to be able to function in the way they are intended to function. Many of us just look at core strength as abdominal strength. But our core is really our center of everything. What do I mean by that? Your core is your center of motion, center of gravity (standing or at rest), center of energy (I’ll talk about this in a minute). A strong and stable core area allows you to push, pull, lift, carry, bend and twist, balance and move in general with comfort and ease.
Every movement you make with your body begins in the core, most particularly in the abdominal area. Years ago, I was sharing a speaking platform with GrandMaster Jhoon Rhee, the man who brought Tae Kwon Do to the United States in the 1950’s. I was speaking about speaking, and he was speaking about human performance. He performed his usual demonstration of a hundred push-ups in 60 seconds, and other physical miracles (at around 70 years old at the time). He also demonstrated how he could anticipate and intercept any movement by an opponent, before the opponent actually executed the movement. When I asked him how he was able to anticipate the opponent’s movement before he even got started, GrandMaster Rhee told me that he watched the area of the opponent’s body about two inches below the navel and he could determine not only when, but where and how the opponent was going to move or strike. Of course he had years of intense training in this practice but his ability to anticipate was uncanny. Every movement in any direction that a person makes, starts from the core.
Test it yourself. Start to make a forceful move (even minuscule moves are noticeable with a trained eye). Put one hand just below your navel and push in slightly. You will feel tension in your abdominal area just as you begin the move. Exercise physiologists, Physical Therapists and Personal Trainers will instruct you to “brace” your abdominal area just before you start an exercise movement. You’ll even notice the influence of your abdominal muscles when you put your hand to your abdominal area as you laugh and when you cough.
Your abdominal area is also known as your center or energy, or Chi (Chinese) or Ki (Japanese), the Universal Life Energy that is within us all, and that Eastern Philosophy stresses so heavily. In fact, we are instructed to be aware of and focus on our “center” when we begin to meditate, if we are so inclined. And you can feel the powerful effects of focusing on your “center” through an increased sense of strength and balance.
How do you strengthen your core area? Yes, sit-ups and crunches are great exercises for seniors to strengthen the core. Side bends, planks either on one elbow (side planks), or both elbows, and various lower back exercises are also good exercises for your core. The more you bend and twist the more your core will be energized. Lie on your back and lift your legs off the floor like you did in PE class in Junior High School. If you do this, make sure there is little or no space between your lower back and the floor. Otherwise there is the potential for injury to your lower back. There are any number of variations on these and other core exercises. A strong core is necessary for just about any movement you make as a senior. The stronger your core, the easier for you to move and the more mobility you will experience. You will be doing yourself a huge favor by doing some of the many core exercises available.
Next week, in Part 2 of this series on the core, I’ll include pictures of some simple and basic core exercises that you should be able to do. This is assuming I can figure out how to insert pictures into the blog. I’ve never done it. Look for Part 2 next week.
Thanks for reading.