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7 Non-Bikini Reasons to Carve Your Core

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    You'll Be a Better Runner

    Most of us focus our running efforts on our leg muscles. But a strong core should be right up there with the quads, hamstrings, and calves. "A powerful center makes you better at any sport or movement, like running," says Sadie Nardini, an anatomy and spinal expert, author of the 21-Day Yoga Body, and founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga. Proof: One Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research study found runners had faster times running 5,000 meters after six weeks of core strength training.

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    You'll Reduce Your Risk of Injury

    "Abs are the foundation and platform from which the rest of your body moves and functions," says Jane Cobler, a doctor of physical therapy at ATI Physical Therapy. This comes in handy for virtually every movement—from grabbing the dish off the top shelf to spinning your niece around at the family party. Even though it seems like these activities are all about arm and shoulder strength, a strong core prevents these other muscles from straining, Cobler says.

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    You'll Boost Your Balance

    All those core-strengthening yoga poses keep you steady in a literal sense, too. "The pelvis is the actual center of your gravity," Nardini says. Your core supports your alignment, which enhances your ability to perform everyday tasks—like crossing the slippery street wipe-out free—as well as more intense ones, like rock climbing and Pilates, Cobler adds.

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    You'll Improve Your Breathing

    Toward the top of your core is the diaphragm, which plays an essential role in deep breathing. And deep breathing has benefits in itself: One Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine study found that breathing from your diaphragm promotes relaxation and reduces stress. After athletes completed an intense workout followed by one hour of relaxing breathing, they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

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    You'll Improve Digestion

    Think of your core as a wall protecting your pelvic organs, Nardini says. You want that wall to be as long as it is strong, so lengthening the abs and stretching the core is key. If the core is too tight, it can compress the organs and lead to poor digestion, Nardini warns. "Gaining flexibility along with your stability in the abs, back, and spine will refresh and rejuvenate the systems that help optimize metabolism, cleansing, nutrition, hormonal balance, and keep you looking and feeling your absolute best," she says.

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    You'll Improve Your Heart Health

    Though most belly fat is found right beneath your layer of skin, about 10 percent of the fat, called visceral fat, settles in between the abdominal wall and your organs like the liver and intestines. That's the more dangerous fat, an excess of which can lead to tons of problems—from heart issues to dementia to breast cancer. To cut back, take a multifaceted approach by mixing sets of crunches and planks with cardio to reach 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

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    You'll Have Better Posture

    Since your core muscles run all the way to your spine, a strong core keeps your back stabilized, improving your posture as a result. Standing tall also protects you from common aging conditions like arthritis and degenerative joint disease, Cobler says, since good posture preserves your joints by holding your body in the least stressful positions. Mixing core exercises with a regular strength routine will have the best effect. "Resistive strength training in general promotes improved bone health and can decrease the likelihood of developing osteoporosis," she says.