As we age, the body tends to lose muscle. The American Council on
Exercise reports older adults lose, on average, about a half-pound of
muscle every year. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for muscle
There are several adverse effects of muscle loss with aging. First,
muscle burns more calories than fat. So as muscle mass declines, the
body burns fewer calories, which can lead to weight gain. Loss of muscle
strength decreases stamina and may cause a person to tire more easily.
One particular area of the body that is susceptible to aging-related
muscle loss is the core (the muscles in the central area of the body,
including those in the abdomen, back and pelvis). Core muscle strength
is important for stamina and performance of many everyday activities,
like getting out of a chair or bending to pick an object off the floor.
It's also needed to maintain posture, balance and stability. In older
people, lack of core strength increases the risk for falls. The National
Institute on Aging estimates 1.6 million older adults in the U.S. are
treated in hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries each year.
Building the Core
Michelle Miller, M.S., Fitness & Movement Specialist with
Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, says a strong core helps older
people maintain their function and independence. However, sitting for
long periods of time, especially while hunched over desks and computers
pulls the body out of alignment and wreaks havoc on the muscles that
hold up the spine, shoulders and pelvis. Miller explains loss of core
strength causes poor posture and can lead to problems in the knees,
hips, back and shoulders. In some cases, the diminished core strength
and posture may even increase risk for migraines, asthma, heel spurs and
Improving posture and core strength doesn't happen overnight. In
many cases, the core muscles must be retrained to hold the body in
proper alignment. It doesn't take any special equipment. Miller
encourages her clients to incorporate core exercises into their daily
routines. She even teaches a series of exercises to be done while
sitting. These exercises start with proper positioning of the feet,
followed by squeezing of the muscles in the lower leg, upper leg, back
and shoulders. Breathing techniques provide the body with a good supply
of oxygen during the exercises.
Miller says most people have gotten out of the habit of standing up
straight and maintaining good posture. So the exercises are often
uncomfortable and awkward at first. However, it is essential to keep
practicing them. Over time, Miller explains the stronger core muscles
will naturally hold the body in the proper posture without the need to
think about the position or alignment of the body.
Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
AUDIENCE INQUIRYFor general information on exercises to strengthen the core:
American Council on Exercise, http://www.acefitness.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity
BIBLIOGRAPHYIf you need a list of the research titles supporting this story, please contact Barbara Fister at (610) 395-1300 ext. 238.
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