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Ask Dr. K: Strengthening your core improves balance and stability

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’d like to strengthen my core. Can you describe some exercises to start? Will I need any special equipment?

DEAR READER: Your “core” muscles include your abdominal, back, side, pelvic and buttock muscles. Building a strong, flexible core will improve your athletic performance, enhance your balance and stability, and make everyday acts such as bending, turning and reaching easier.

Standing core exercises are a good place to start. I’ll describe two of these exercises here and put photographs showing proper form for them on my website,

— Side leg lift. Stand up straight with your feet together and your hands on your hips. Lift one leg straight out to the side until your foot is about six inches off the floor. Return to the starting position. Do one to three sets of 10 reps with each leg.

— Side squat with knee lift. Stand up straight with your feet together and hands by your sides. Step to the right, hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees to lower your buttocks into a squat. As you do, clasp your hands loosely in front of your chest. Lift up from the squat and bring your right foot up and your hands to your sides. Do one to three sets of 10 reps with each leg.

You can do many core exercises without any special equipment, using only your body weight to help you build strength. You can also incorporate one or more of the following types of equipment into your routine:

— CHAIR. Choose a sturdy chair that won’t tip over easily.

— MAT. Choose a nonslip, well-padded mat.

— YOGA STRAP. This non-elastic strap helps you position your body properly during certain stretches.

— MEDICINE BALLS. Similar in size to a soccer ball, medicine balls come in different weights. Start with a 4- to 6-pound ball.

— STABILITY BALL. Large, inflatable orbs called stability balls come in several sizes. Check the package for a size chart based on your height.

— BOSU. A Bosu Balance Trainer is half a stability ball mounted on a heavy rubber platform that helps hold it firmly in place.

I’ve done aerobic exercises nearly every day most of my adult life. But it’s only been in the past decade that I intersperse them with strength training. I want to maintain my balance and stability so that I’m less prone to falling. Finally, I developed back pain, and back exercises have made an enormous difference.

But it’s also vanity. I’ve reached the age when my muscle mass starts to shrink, and what man wants to look wimpy? I don’t aspire to look like Arnold in his prime (nor, it appears, does he). I just don’t want to look like a man my age — because then I tend to feel like a man my age!

(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)


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