The benefits of core conditioning — a trimmer tummy and much more

Many of us would like to firm up our tummies, a goal that seems more frustrating and elusive the older we get. Working on strengthening a variety of trunk muscles, collectively known as "the core," can help with that — and much more, reports the October 2008 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.

The core muscles — the muscles in the abdomen, lower back, and pelvis — lie roughly between the rib cage and the hips. The strength and coordination of these muscles is important not only for sports and fitness routines but also for daily life — for example, reaching up to a shelf, lifting a child, or sponging a spot off the floor.

Experts conclude from studies that well-coordinated core muscle use stabilizes the spine and helps create a firm base of support for virtually all movement. Exercises that strengthen abdominal and other core muscles should be part of an overall fitness plan that includes regular moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Guidelines also encourage us to get 20 to 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, and that might be a good time to fit in a few exercises designed to work the core.

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