Strong core muscles support all aspects of your life
DEAR DOCTOR K:
Many exercise classes these days focus on core strength. Why is it important to have strong core muscles?
I had always thought of exercise as involving the muscles of my arms and legs. Then I began hearing about core exercises and realized there was a lot about exercise that I didn't know.
Your core muscles are the sturdy central link connecting your upper and lower body. Bounded largely by the rib cage and hips, your core includes the muscles, bones and joints in your abdomen, back, sides, pelvis, buttocks and hips.
No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward through your core. Thus, weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your entire body functions. On the flip side, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do:
Everyday acts such as bathing, dressing, sitting in a chair or simply standing still are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core. You take them for granted until they become difficult or painful.
On-the-job tasks that involve lifting and standing rely on core muscles. Less obvious tasks -- such as sitting at your desk for hours -- engage your core as well.
A healthy back. Low back pain, an often debilitating problem, may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, core exercises are often an important part of treatment.
Sports and other pleasurable activities. Golfing, tennis, biking, running, swimming and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core. Want a stronger forehand or a longer drive off the tee? Think core exercises. Sex calls for core power and flexibility, too.
Housework, fix-it work and gardening. Actions such as bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, hammering and reaching overhead all pass through the core. So do vacuuming, mopping and dusting.
Balance and stability. Your core stabilizes your body. A strong core can lessen your risk of falling.
Incontinence. Losing control of your bladder generally reflects weakness in your pelvic core muscles. With Kegel exercises, you can tune up your pelvic muscles and cure incontinence.
Good posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply.
Weak, tight or unbalanced core muscles can undermine you in any of these realms. That's why it's important to build a strong core.
We have more information on building core strength in our Special Health Report, "Core Exercises." (Learn more about this report at AskDoctorK.com, or call 877-649-9457 toll-free to order it.)
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)
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