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The “abs” get most of the attention in advertisements for strength devices, and a big waist is something almost everyone tries to avoid. But the first sign of weak core muscles is poor posture—both standing and sitting. Other signs are back pain and muscle weakness.
The American Physical Therapy Association says that signs of poor posture include slouching, head thrusted or tilted forward, rounded shoulders, and excessive arching of the lower back (swayback). So, the body’s natural curves are exaggerated. The opposite of poor posture is a position that minimizes strain on the joints and muscles.
The problem for most middle-aged and older adults is the difficulty in changing old posture habits. Knowing the checkpoints doesn’t guarantee that a person can easily follow them. For that to happen, the core muscles have to be strengthened. Again, everything goes back to the core.
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Lower Back Pain
A second indicator of a weak core is lower back pain. When unnecessary pressure is put on the vertebrae, discs, and facets that form the spinal column, back pain will let you know something is wrong with your posture. The appearance will be one of an excessive inward curvature of the lower spine and accompanying extension of the stomach/abdomen.
The third weak-core warning signal is muscle weakness. You won’t feel the weakness in your core, but rather in your arms and legs. A strong and stable core transfers strength that allows for rapid, strong, and efficient movement needed to lift, push, pull, throw, or stride.
Testing the Strength of Your Core Muscles
You should not engage in any new or demanding physical activity, exercise, or test without getting the approval of your doctor. Signs of core weakness, such as poor posture, muscle weakness, and low back pain are easy for most people to assess without a professional. But a physician, physical therapist, exercise physiologist, strength coach, or athletic trainer is needed to provide a more scientific evaluation.
Among the tests used specifically for older adults are the Senior Fitness Test, the AAHPERD Functional Fitness Test, and the Groningen Fitness Test. Each one tests core strength, flexibility, balance, and mobility, all of which are directly or indirectly related to the core muscles.
Three tests that might be used are a modified sit-up, a “functional reach” assessment, and an “excursion balance” test. In one study, each of those tests was used to evaluate core strength and its effect on balance in a group of subjects between the ages of 65 and 85. Improvements in core muscle endurance were associated with significant improvements in balance.
The 30-second sit-to-stand chair test, starting from a seated position, is an indirect test of core strength, a direct test of leg strength and endurance, and a predictor of risk for falls, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also an exercise you can do at home (assuming you have your doctor’s permission) to improve lower body and core strength.
The exercise requires a sturdy chair that has a straight back and no arms, a stopwatch, and someone to act as a spotter and timer. With arms folded across your chest, complete as many sit-to-stand repetitions as you can in 30 seconds. A below average score indicates a high risk for falls.
For more information about strengthening your core muscles, purchase Core Fitness at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.