Where would you be in the rankings if you had to take part in a beauty competition, wearing only a skimpy bathing suit? Without the protection of your clothes would you show signs of unsightly fat deposits around your midriff, brought on over the years by a couch potato life style of relative affluence and ease? As youngsters we start out with torsos that are trim and normally ram-rod straight. Thereafter, unless we’re exceedingly careful, our figures begin to droop. As we age, we don’t grow up we grow out. Bow fronted bellies are widespread, if you’ll excuse the pun. The most common sign of physical neglect – regularly displayed on cruise ships and the trendy playgrounds of St Tropez and Acapulco – is the middle aged spread. This is a side effect of sedentary living, and represents both an aesthetic disaster and a major health hazard. If you spot this defect when next you view yourself in a bathroom mirror, take yourself immediately in hand by pursuing the following exercise, which conveys five, distinct health benefits.
By doing this exercise you’ll strengthen your tummy muscles, which will immediately enhance your overall appearance. In the process you’ll also reduce your risk of developing a lordosis, a common cause of postural backache which develops over the course of time when the abdominal muscles grow too weak to perform their job. As they slacken, the pelvis rotates forward, creating a hollow back and a butt which is far more derrière than it was ever meant to be. Strengthening the abdominal muscles also protects the spine from lifting strains. When we hoist heavy weights the muscles of the diaphragm and belly wall are always forcefully contracted. This drives the largely liquid contents of the abdomen backwards and upwards against the spinal column and rib cage, which lifts the upper body in the fashion of a hydraulic jack or buoyancy bag. The stronger this action, the less strain is imposed on the back and spinal muscles. This explains why weight lifters wear a belt when they’re hoisting heavy weights, and why elderly men give an involuntary grunt when they’re lifting hefty loads. To avoid putting excess strain of their spines they’re forced to be extra reliant on the lifting action of their belly muscles, and so can’t avoid a gasp of relief when the hoist is completed.
Another benefit of having a well-toned belly is that it acts as a powerful aid to respiration. The lungs can’t achieve a full intake of fresh air until they’ve expelled the stale air from their countless tiny air sacs or alveoli. This ‘expiratory backstroke’ is achieved by first relaxing the diaphragm and then driving it upwards by a powerful contraction of the stomach wall.
A strong, ‘washboard’ abdomen also prevents the gut sagging forward, a condition once known as ‘visceroptosis’. We have a framework of ribs to protect our heart and lungs, but only a layer of muscles to support our digestive organs. When our belly walls are tight, as nature intended, the abdominal contents rest easily within the pelvic basin. If they’re allowed to become flabby, we lose the muscular support necessary to provide adequate support for our gastric organs. This collapse can impair their function. Trials carried out some years ago at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, showed that a sagging belly can impede the flow of blood round the body. When we’re resting, about a half of our total blood supply is held in the abdominal organs. When the stomach wall droops, the circulation through this vast reservoir is retarded. This was demonstrated by the Mayo researchers, who injected a chemical into the elbow veins of volunteers. This substance, known as decholin, has the property of causing a bitter taste the moment it reaches the tongue, and enables an accurate estimate to be made of the time the blood takes to travel from arm to mouth. The results revealed that circulation time was considerably slower in pot-bellied people, but could be quickened by as much as a third when they were fitted with a tight abdominal body belt. But why resort to wearing a cumbersome corset, when you can develop your own muscular support?
Most fitness routines contain exercises to strengthen the tummy muscles. Many require special equipment or the assistance of a partner, but there’s one that’s needs no outside aids and is simplicity itself. It’s known to fitness buffs as an ‘abdominal retraction’, which merely means drawing in the tummy wall in an effort to pin the navel against the spine. This can be done at odd times during the day: in the early morning when looking into the bathroom mirror, or later on while waiting for a bus,
or standing in line in a check-out queue. Tone your tummy muscles by the regular practice of this simple exercise and you’ll improve your appearance, increase your strength and enhance your general well-being.
© Donald Norfolk 2010