Bridge to Wellness

February – Core month

by Gary Hicks

Congratulations to everyone who participated in the January Fitness Challenge sponsored by the Stockbridge Area Wellness Coalition! What a great way to jump-start a fitness routine. Walking is a wonderful, low-impact exercise. Your joints will love it, plus it improves circulation, increases bone density and strength, and improves cardiovascular fitness. Maintain your progress by continuing to walk as part of your fitness routine.

For February we will build upon last month’s foundation by adding core exercises. Your “core” is the group of muscles in your midsection—front, back, and sides. Core muscles coordinate to stabilize the abdominal region and the lower back. They’re also responsible for efficient movement of the arms, legs, and spine.

Sure, strong ab muscles look good, but the benefits of a strong core go far beyond looks. Strong core muscles aid most physical activities, like walking, running, golf, tennis, and baseball. For those whose glorious athletic years are long past, core strength continues to be important for everyday movement, such as standing properly, getting out of chairs, sitting up in bed, climbing stairs, and carrying objects.

Strong abs also contribute to strong lower-back muscles. Ab exercises support and strengthen muscles that travel along the spine, which can help prevent pain triggered by overuse, muscle strain, or injuries to the ligaments and discs supporting the spine.

A consistent core exercise routine, combined with a sensible, low-calorie, low-fat diet, can contribute to a slimmer physique and assist with overall strength and balance. Better balance means you’re less likely to sustain a fall that could injure your hips, knees, and other areas. Gaining muscle in the abdominal area can also burn unwanted fat.

Chair exercises for your core

Some very effective ab exercises can be done while sitting in a chair: Lean back, extend your legs until they are horizontal to the floor, and point your toes toward the wall. Flutter-kick your legs as though you are swimming. Start with small flutter kicks. Perform this exercise for 30 seconds and rest for one minute. Repeat four to six times. After a few days or weeks, as you notice strength gains, move on to larger kicks.

For a second great chair exercise for your abs: Once again, while seated, lean back, extend your legs until they are horizontal to the floor and point your toes toward the wall. This time, keeping your legs and feet together, slowly bend your knees and bring them toward your chest. Go as far as you can, and then slowly move back to the starting position. Perform this exercise for six slow repetitions, which constitutes one set. Perform four to six sets.

Monthly Fitness Challenge: Become a Plank “Ab Master”

The plank is an exercise that strengthens the spine and abdominal muscles and helps improve posture while assisting in keeping your bones aligned. If you don’t know how to plank, look online for instructions. For example, this site shows a straight-arm plank and a forearm-plank variation:

Following is this month’s schedule for the plank challenge:

February 1-5:     Each day hold a plank position for one minute

February 8-12:   Each day hold a plank position for ninety seconds

February 15-19: Each day hold a plank position for 105 seconds

February 22-26: Each day hold a plank position for two minutes

The abdominal muscles are very resilient and will respond quickly to exercise. The goal here is not to get six-pack abs, but to build a strong core. If by the end of a month you can sustain a four-minute plank, you are a Wellness Coalition “Ab Master”! Be sure to let others know how you are progressing by commenting on our Facebook page at .

This column is sponsored by the Stockbridge Area Wellness Coalition. Remember, if you have health challenges that could hamper your ability to exercise, check with your doctor before taking on a new exercise regimen.

Upcoming wellness coalition-sponsored programs open to all:

  • Winter Warm Up program sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield & Playmakers and brought to Stockbridge in conjunction with the Stockbridge Library and SAWC. The eight-week program includes at least one weekly zoom session & daily workout calendar. Sessions start in February – March with the finale 5K Fun Run/Walk event at Hawk Island Park March 28, 2021. Learn more and register at
  • Practical Cooking with a Pro – class taught by Jackie Scheller and organized by Stockbridge Community Outreach to help students learn how to cook delicious, economical and satisfying meals. Free, but space is limited. Call Outreach at 517-851-7285 to register. Next session starts April 12 and meets weekly on Monday afternoons or evenings for six weeks.

Gary Hicks was a World Class Runner for the University of Michigan Track Team and is a Certified Fitness Specialist.

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