A Strong Core and Why You Need One

Core muscles are partly responsible for nearly every kind of movement

By Barbara Pierce

You’ve probably heard talk about your “core” and “core exercises.” What is our core? And why is it important?

Picture your body without your arms and legs: that’s your core. Your whole torso area is your core. It’s your body’s central hub, the space that provides protection for your body’s vital organs.

Your core is the foundation of your body, but it’s also one of the parts of the body that’s weakest in a lot of people, because we’ve spent way too much time sitting—and we still are. Our bodies were not designed to sit for long periods of time. Regardless of our age or occupation, we sit — in front of a screen — far more frequently than we should be. More and more studies confirm the negative effects of a sedentary life, especially the negative effects on our core and our core muscles.

Core muscles are those located throughout much of your trunk.

“Your core muscles are some of the most important muscles in your body,” said physical therapist Joe Martin, founder and CEO of Function Better Physical Therapy. Martin offers physical therapy in several locations in the Mohawk Valley. “You need these muscles to be strong.”

As we age, our spine ages, causing lots of changes at the spine level, he explained. It’s critical to engage and strengthen the muscles that support the spine as these muscles are crucial, so that our spine can continue to functioning. So that we can lift things, carry things, maintain our balance, go upstairs, get out of a chair.

Your core muscles are partly responsible for nearly every kind of movement you make. Our core muscles allow us to bend, twist, flex, extend, step, jump, sit up and simply stand — the stronger your core, the better you can perform all of these movements. A strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do.

“It’s especially important to have a core that is prepared not to fall,” Martin stressed.

Having a strong core is critically important to our overall well-being.

Indications that you might have a weak core include lower back pain, poor posture, (which can lead to more back pain), poor balance, little tolerance for standing, and difficulty breathing.

“Core exercises to keep your core muscles functioning well are incredibly important for folks who are seniors,” said Martin.

Strengthening your core is one of the best things you can do for your health as you age. Core exercises not only help to ease pain, they improve your balance and increase your flexibility, which will help you maintain your independence.

What core exercises strengthen our core? Can we do them at home?

Core exercises can be done anywhere, without special equipment, and in small spurts.

Each workout will help make doing everyday tasks easier. Core exercises are those that use your trunk without support. You can do them on your own with little or no equipment.

Many people think of core exercises as abdominal exercises, like sit-ups, said Martin. Sit ups, also known as crunches, are not core exercises, contrary to what many think; they’re hard on your back and they target just a few core muscles.

Core exercises strengthen and train your lower back, hips, abdomen and pelvis to work together for better balance and stability.

Physical therapist Joe Martin, CEO of Function Better Physical Therapy.

However, before you begin an at-home program to strengthen your core, get professional input, suggested Martin. There are so many questions that need to be answered first, before you start exercises. So many people have existing conditions that could be made worse by doing the wrong exercises, or doing exercises wrong.

You don’t need to continue a program under the direction of a professional, just get expert input before you begin, he said. The person you consult doesn’t have to be a physical therapist, just a good skilled trainer or a licensed physical therapist, anyone with a vast knowledge of all the muscles.

Consult with a knowledgeable person to get an evaluation; that person could teach you what to do at home and how to do it. Then, when you’ve gone through that program, go back to that person to learn the next step.

If you have the time and the budget, you can have a professional consultation and continue a program to strengthen your core from a professional, like Martin.

If you sit much of the day, you probably know that you should move more. One way you can ensure that this happens is by taking regular breaks. Experts recommend you take a 10-minute break to get up and move, for every hour you spend sitting.

Taking some time to improve your core strength each day can bring you so many benefits, bringing your body into a more harmonious, healthy state overall.