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5 Core strength exercises for seniors that are safe and effective

5 Core strength exercises for seniors that are safe and effective

Dr. Michael Derry, DPT, PT, OCS Jacksonville, Florida
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Seniors are absolutely capable of exercising to improve their core strength. Exercises to strengthen your core are safe and effective but can be a little tricker as we age. Core exercises need to be done so you can feel stronger in many areas of your life! The importance of improving core strength can’t be underestimated. Core weakness can be felt when trying to off to couch, rolling over in bed, and even when picking something off the ground. You use your core more than you think and that is a good thing! Without your core muscles it would be hard to get anything done.

Why seniors should strengthen their core boils down to preventing frailty.

Frailty is the progressive loss of the ability to do the things you need or want to do.

Frailty includes the loss of muscle mass. The good news is that fraility is preventable in many ways and in fact this is what I love to do with my clients. For some reason we don’t talk about the impact exercise can have on someone’s life. Core strength is critical and seniors can strengthen their core in a way that only improves core strength but improves their life! 

Exercises to strengthen your core have been shown to help you not only improve your core strength but improve your overall health and can even assist in disease prevention. The exercise alone will improve strength but when you package them together, like I describe, then your body can undergo change that can improve many areas of your life.

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.  

Benefits of exercise and increased activity in seniors include the reduction of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity. The benefits don’t top there! Other benefits include improved mobility, mental health, quality of life, and the reduction in mortality. You will actually live longer with a little bit of work.

Benefits of exercise for Seniors
Benefits of exercise in Seniors

Can you think of any medication that can improve all of those things at once?

Below are 5 core exercises to improve strength in seniors that are safe and effective, I have also included the recommended dosage. I encourage learning the movement and then completing them together so you can improve core strength but also have the benefits of improving your body and health.

5 Strength exercises for seniors to improve core strength

5 Core strengthening exericses for seniors exercises pdf


The listed exercises below are core strenthenning exercises for seniors but they have not been developed specifically for you. I draw upon years of experience and what I have seen work for others but every body is different so to ensure safety I recommend you speak with your physical therapist or provider for specific recommendations for you.

1. Crunch

The crunch is a great start to learn what strengthening core muscles feel like and how to activate them. Lie down on the ground or elevated surface with your knees bent. Cradle your neck in your hands. Curl your chest towards your thighs. With control, return to lying on your back. Make sure you breathe out as your crunch.

Tip: This is safe to do if you degenerative disc disease or a history of lower back pain. Make sure you listen to your body and don't push past pain.

Senior completing a crunch core exercise
The Crunch

2. Dead Bug

Lie on your back with your arms straight up towards the ceiling and your knees lifted at a 90 degree angle. Draw your belly button in towards your spine. Lower one arm towards your ear while you extend the opposite leg straight out towards the ground (but don't let it touch the ground!). If you can't keep your back flat as you move your arm and leg then limit the distance you move them. As you improve you can increase the speed and range of the arms and legs.

Senior completing Dead Bug core exercise
Dead Bug

3. Plank

Lie on your belly, propped up on your forearms. Raise your abdomen off the floor until your spine is straight. The contact points on the ground should be your forearms and toes. Hold this position for a few seconds.

Tip: If you feel this in your back then start with being on your knees. This will reduce the strain but as you improve progress back to the normal plank position.

Senior completing Plank Exercise for Core Strengthening

4. Bird Dog

Begin on all fours with your arms under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and eyes looking between your palms. Draw your belly button in towards your spine. This creates a neural spine. Then extend one arm forward and the opposite leg backwards, ensuring that your back stays level. Don't focus on lifting high but more reaching out. It doesn't matter how high you life the arm or leg.

TIPS: If your knees are sore then you put a pillow underneath them. If you wrists get sore then you can make a fist and put the pressure through your knuckles instead of your palms.

Senior completing bird dog exercise
Bird Dog

5. Squat

Start with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed slightly outwards. Think about sitting into an imaginary chair behind you. The goal is to go down about 90 degrees but some people can’t due to hip pain, knee pain, or past surgeries. Just do what you can! If you feel that you are going to fall backwards them put a chair behind you until you are more confident.

Be sure to be next to something sturdy so you can use your hands to maintain your balance.

Senior completing squat exercise

We just reviewed 5 core strength exercises for seniors that are safe and effective. Now that you have the exercises down it's time to put it together so you can not only improve your core strength but improve your health at the same time. According to the The World Health Organization's Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health every senior should be getting about 20 min of resistance training a few days a week. Because we have good research supporting exercise for seniors, I strive to achieve this with my clients. Here is an example senior workout you can complete.

  1. Crunch 2x20 with 1 min rest between sets
  2. Deadbug 2x40 total reps with 1 min rest between sets
  3. Plank 5 x 15 second holds
  4. Bird dog 2x20 with 1 min rest between sets
  5. Squat 2x15 with 1 min rest between sets

You can try these hip stretches after your done! They are great for improving stiffness and achyiness in your hips! 

If you are intesested in learning more about exercises for core strength training then check out our book my wife and I wrote. She is a physical therapist as well and we believe this book is a great for those wanting to learn about their core and improve their core strength.

Efficient exercises for core strength book
Core strengthening book for adults

The key in core strength training in seniors is dosage. Notice I said dosage! Just like any medication, in order to get the benefits, you have to do a certain amount. This makes sense but some seniors give up on core strengthening because they don’t see change. Most often it’s because they haven’t done enough. There is evidence to show that about 150 minutes a week is the recommended amount to make lasting change. That’s only about 20 minutes a day! Is feeling better, stronger and reducing your risk of early death worth 20 min a day? 

Common reasons that seniors don’t improve their core strength include pain or past injuries and the lack of know how. If this sounds like you then reach out to a local physical therapist to help you learn your body and how to exercise in a way that helps prevent and treat many diseases while improving your quality of life while adding days to your life.

Is walking enough to improve core strength?

Walking is a great exercise! Walking everyday increases physical activity which has been shown to help reduce many diseases and improve quality of life in seniors. Walking does require a certain amount of core strength. Walking to improve your core strength really depends on your physical abilities at that moment. If you are able to do most things in your day that you want to do and in fairly good health, then walking alone may not be the best option to improve core strength. If you are challenged with walking around your home and looking for a place to start, then walking can improve core strength.

The best recommendation to improve many things in your life and actually reduce your chance of early mortality includes cardiovascular training (walking) and resistance training (core strengthening).

20 min of walking before or after strength training is a great way to make sure you get both! 

That combination is best supported by evidence and been shown to better your body in many ways.

In summary, core strength training in seniors is important. Your core impacts so much in your daily life that you can't ignore it's benefits. Not only can it add days to your life but you can do more in your life while feeling stronger and more confident. We reviewed my favorite core strengthening exercises to help you strengthen safety and effectively. Make sure to download the core exercises and give them a try! 

1. Izquierdo, M., Merchant, R.A., Morley, J.E. et al. International Exercise Recommendations in Older Adults (ICFSR): Expert Consensus Guidelines. J Nutr Health Aging25, 824–853 (2021).

Dr. Michael Derry is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and board certified in orthopedics. He is very passionate about treating lower back pain and helping people build their resiliency. He has spent time assisting at universities as well as managing large clinics before starting his own practice in Jacksonville, FL.

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