Tips to help you embrace abdominal workouts

Woman in her 60s doing pilates at home on a yoga mat. She is balancing on her forearms and looking down towards the floor.

For some people, crunches and other abdominal muscle workouts are the last thing they’d want to do — so they don’t. “Part of the perception is that it’s difficult. We tend to want to avoid doing things that require effort, especially as we get older, when that’s harder for us,” says Lorna Brown, a physical therapist who specializes in geriatrics at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

But skipping abdominal strengtheners can have a big effect on your mobility and independence — and not for the better.

What are the abdominals?

The abdominal muscles (often called the abs) include not just the visible “six-pack” or rectus abdominis muscles in the front of your abdomen, but also the obliques in the front and side of your abdomen and the transverse abdominis across your lower abdomen. “The transverse abdominis is the inner muscle underneath the outer abdominal layers. It provides stability around the spine,” Brown explains.

The abs are part of your core, the collection of muscles that act as your foundation. In addition to your abs, your core includes the muscles along your spine, near your shoulder blades, in your hips and buttocks, and in your pelvis.

Skipping ab workouts

You must work all your core muscles to stay strong and active. “We need that strong core or base so that the arms and legs can perform well,” Brown explains.

What if you don’t mind doing shoulder, hip, and back muscle exercises, but can’t stand the ab workout? You’re putting your entire core in jeopardy. “If your core isn’t stable and strong, you increase the risk for injury and falls when you lift something or walk,” Brown says. A weak core also makes it hard to turn, bend, and get dressed.

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