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Core muscles stabilize segments of the body, act as a shock absorber for the whole body, maintain functional (working) posture, and allow for motions, such as flexion and rotation.
Each muscle and muscle group has a specific role to play in terms of daily activities.
Most of us don’t think in terms of muscle names, their exact location, or their biomechanical functions, such as flexing, extending, rotating, or stabilizing. But when core muscles are weak, whether we notice it or not, they affect everyday acts. This includes activities like dressing, bathing, using a computer, sitting at a desk, carrying groceries, vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and participating in sports like golf, tennis, swimming, and biking.
Improving your core through regular resistance exercises can improve overall mobility. In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that just moderate-intensity resistance exercise reduces disability and increases mobility among older adults.
As your mobility improves, and you can do more everyday chores, like housework and grocery shopping, you can reduce your risk of disability even further according to a Northwestern University study.
Beyond simply allowing or supporting certain movements, the core muscles are necessary for flexibility, strength, and injury prevention. Flexibility is the ability to move joints through a range of motion. Weak or tight muscles limit flexibility; strong muscles enhance it. Think of bending to pick up an object, stooping to do housework, dressing, or bathing.
In middle-aged and older adults, tight (less flexible) hamstrings and hip flexor muscles often affect muscles of the core, including those in the buttocks, pelvis, and lower back.
Strength is the ability to exert force against resistance. In a gym, that means lifting weights or pulling and pushing to move an object. At home, it’s lifting a grandchild, carrying groceries, doing yard work, or in some cases, using your body weight as resistance—as in performing a modified push-up or getting through a day without being overly fatigued. Wherever it occurs, resistance training, often referred to as weight training, is the solution when lack of strength is the problem.
One of the strength-related obstacles older adults face is the loss of muscle mass. Sarcopenia—low muscle mass—affects as many as 50 percent of older adults, yet few people are familiar with the term. Decreased muscle strength and mass can lead to issues with mobility, frailty, osteoporosis, falls, pain, and fractures, as well as decreased activity, diabetes, and weight-gain. The accumulation of impairments can eventually result in the loss of physical function and independence. The risk of disability is up to 4.6 times higher in older persons with sarcopenia than in those with normal muscle tissue and strength.
One of the most basic interventions to offset the loss of muscle mass is resistance exercise designed to rebuild mass, strength, and performance. The benefit of resistance training in this age group is effective only if it is combined with a nutrition program that includes adequate protein, fruits and vegetables, and vitamin D that lessens the impact of aging on muscle tissue.
Weakness in any part of the core may cause a person to overcompensate in other areas, which results in less efficient movement and an increased risk of pain or injury. The entire chain of movement can be disrupted if one link is weak or if a muscle or muscle group is overdeveloped. Overdevelopment can be associated with handedness—right-side muscles if the person is right-handed; left-side muscles if left-handed. It happens in others who may have strong abdominal muscles but weak muscles that support the lower back.
Flexibility and strength make participating in physical activities more enjoyable and safer. Both are helpful in skill sports, such as golf and tennis. They are equally important in activities as simple as walking or riding a bicycle.
Perhaps the most important practical application of core fitness is to guard against injuries. Low back pain, for example, affects as much as 80 percent of the population. Core muscles that support the spine may be the determining factor in whether you are included in that group.
Twenty percent of older adults have a problem with balance, and falls are a particular problem for people in that age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than one-third of adults age 65 and older fall each year, and 20-30 percent of those suffer moderate to severe injuries. Strengthening core muscles is one way to guard against falls.
For more information about how to strengthen your core, purchase Core Fitness at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.