Fitness After 50: Safe ways to strengthen your core
People who remove the core of an apple before eating it are doing themselves a great disservice. They’re ignoring the most important part!
Researchers at Graz University of Technology in Austria have found that the stems and seeds within the apple’s core contain bacteria, which is healthy for your gut microbiomes. The microbes and microbiomes in your gut are paramount indicators of your health.
The “good” bacteria helps digest food, regulates the immune system, acts against disease-causing bacteria and produces vitamins you need for proper blood coagulation, according to The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health. (As with all things, everything in moderation. Don’t eat a ton of apple seeds! They contain trace amounts of a poisonous substance called amygdalin. When metabolized in the digestive system, it becomes hydrogen cyanide. You’d have to eat hundreds of apple seeds for it to have a lethal effect, but still … don’t go crazy with it.)
The apple’s core is what connects it to the tree, to the earth, to its origin. Life literally stems from the core of an apple. Without core, all you have is mush covered by skin. The human core is exactly that important, if not more. All human movement stems from the core. (When I refer to the core, I’m including the front and back of the human trunk.) Human balance and strength starts in the core. The ability to propel oneself forward doesn’t start in the legs; inertia begins at the core.
Our core contains and protects our vital organs which are predictors of health, good and bad. Our core muscles protect and maintain our spinal column and nerves. They stabilize our muscles from the center outward. Our ability to breath depends upon the muscles inside and outside the core. When people stop using their core, their vitality, posture, muscle control, agility, mobility, flexibility, strength and digestive system all slowly degrade. (Not to mention their outlook, mood, motivation and countless other residual functions). The “slouch” takes over. The gut billows forward. Back pain becomes a constant companion. Ignoring your core is a no-win situation.
I met with a woman in her 90s who was still mobile, but she had been prescribed a medication which reduced her ability to walk. She began watching more TV, slumped in a mushy comfy chair which folded her up into a human accordion. . “I used to have a flat stomach” she mourns. “Now I’m all bent over and I have these back pains. And this … (pointing to her gut) … this is new.” Granted, she’s in her 90s, but she’s not ready to throw in the towel. She wants a better quality of life, understandably so. If you are unable to move as you should, here are some steps I gave my client to get her core back in action:
- No more mushy recliners. Find a more stable alternative to your comfy chair. A nice high-back chair would work. Use one with a stiffer cushion.
- Sit at the edge of that chair with your legs square in front of you and your back upright. If you don’t have the muscles to sit straight up, get a firm, foam cushion to firmly support your back so that it props you up straight. Sitting in an upright posture is enough to reactivate weak core muscles that have been sedentary.
- As you’re sitting, try some high marches or kicks with your feet. Sets of 10-20 work nicely, but start with sets of five if you have to. Take a deep breath and engage all your muscles to help you march. Lift your ribs and upper chest toward the ceiling. Grab the arm rests for added support. If you feel a twinge in your back, stop the exercise. It means you haven’t learned to recruit your muscles properly and your low back is trying to do the core’s job. Wait for a day or so, and try again. It takes the brain awhile to communicate to the muscles, especially if you’ve been sedentary. If you still feel twinges, it’s best to get a professional to walk you through the motion with proper form.
- As you’re sitting, face forward and rock side to side. Just a small motion leaning to the side is enough to engage the oblique muscles along the underside of your ribs. Grab the arm rests for added support. But yikes — make sure you’re in a safe place so you don’t topple over!
- In bed, lay on your back. To prevent injury and provide added support, put your hands behind you, centered underneath your lower back. Bend your knees and bring them together up to your middle and back down. When you’ve built up enough strength, you can straighten and lift the legs one at a time. When you’re ready for an added challenge, try bringing your legs up and down together. Keep them straight, tight and unbending. Engage those muscles; don’t be passive about it. Take a deep breath before each one. Go slowly. Remember, to prevent injury and provide added support, put your hands behind you underneath your lower back. Hernia sufferers should do this only with professional supervision.
- If you’re going to watch TV, stand whenever possible. Allow yourself moments to be passive and relax, then stand back up and do some marches. When sitting, try lifting your ribs up. You may only be able to do it for a second or two, but your strength and posture will improve eventually, regardless of your age.
Please keep in touch with your progress by emailing me at victoryfitnessteam.com. In part two of this article, I’ll address building core strength for more advanced senior athletes. If you’re at the gym, remember … don’t ignore your core!
Vicki Morgan CPT ACTION is a Senior Strength & Fitness Instructor at Flex Gym and Fitness. You can reach her at 719-445-8566 or visit seniorstrength.pro. Remember to consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. If you experience pain or difficulty, stop and consult your healthcare provider. This article is not meant to take the place of any treatment or activity your physician has deemed necessary.