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The importance of balance and core strength as we age

Core strength and balance are critical for healthy aging and injury prevention.
Core strength is essential to aging successfully, helping prevent injury as we grow older. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

As we age, our bodies will experience changes that can impact overall strength and mobility. One crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is focusing on balance and core strength. These play a vital role in day-to-day activities and can significantly enhance quality of life as we grow older.

Balance is the ability to maintain control and stability while standing, walking, or performing any other physical activity. With age, balance naturally declines due to muscle loss, changes in vision and hearing, and a decrease in body awareness, also known as proprioception. Incorporating balance exercises into a workout routine can help mitigate these effects and improve overall stability.

Maintaining strong balance becomes increasingly important because it reduces the risk of falls and related injuries. According to the U.S. CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults. A focus on regular balance training can enhance the body’s ability to react to sudden movements or interferences, therefore reducing the likelihood of falls.

What is your core and why is core strength so vital? The core is a group of muscles in the front and back side of your body that help stabilize and control the pelvis and spine during movements and help maintain good posture.

Core strength naturally declines with age, leading to poor posture, back pain, and reduced stability. Regular core exercises can combat these effects. Having strong core muscles provide stability and support that also positively impacts balance.

When executing core exercises, it is less about power and more about maintaining ideal postures which help to unload the joints and promote ease of movement. For the average person, this helps to maintain the ability to get on and off the floor and enjoy activities such as playing with children or grandchildren, getting up from a chair, sitting comfortably at a desk, or performing daily living activities without discomfort or pain.

Having a strong core can often prevent overuse injuries, and can help increase resilience and ease of rehab from acute injury. The core also includes the pelvic floor musculature, and maintaining core stability can help treat and prevent certain types of incontinence.

Below are some simple exercises to incorporate into a training routine to help improve balance, core strength and overall functional strength for daily living activities:

Wall push-ups: Stand facing a wall and place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart or just slightly wider. Step back until your body is at an angle and your arms are extended. Gently bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the wall, then push back up to the starting standing position. Your goal is to aim for 8-10 repetitions to start.

Single-leg stands or flamingo stands: Stand near a wall for support and lift one foot off the ground, balancing on the other leg for about 30-45 seconds. As you progress, you want to aim for 60-90 seconds per leg, and you can challenge yourself by closing your eyes or performing small knee bends while balancing.

High plank: Begin by assuming a push-up position on an elevated surface such as the couch, a chair or even stairs. With your forearms resting on the elevated surface and elbows under your shoulders, engage your core muscles and hold tight for 20-30 seconds, gradually increasing your time as you get stronger to 45-60 seconds plus. Your goal is to maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.

Remember to start with these exercises matching your current fitness and gradually increase the intensity as you progress and only feel comfortable. And as always, make sure to check with your health care professional or physician first before starting a new exercise routine. Now go and crush it!

Juan Medrano is a certified functional aging specialist, and owner of Movimento Fitness.