Strong Abs: The Importance of Working Your Core

A surprising new study finds a possible connection between abdominal strength and longevity. Here's how yoga can give you strong abs.

A surprising new study finds a possible connection between abdominal strength and longevity. Here’s how yoga can give you strong abs.

Strong abdominal muscles may be the true fountain of youth, according to a recent Canadian study, that was published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Although there is extensive evidence that physical activity protects against illness and death, previously there were few tests of whether muscular strength alone has an impact on your life span.

As part of the Canadian Fitness Survey, exercise physiologists tested 8,116 men and women who served as a representative sampling of the national population. The study participants were asked to perform as many push-ups as possible, followed by the most sit-ups they could complete in a minute. Grip strength was tested with a dynamometer (which measures the strength of each hand when squeezed) and flexibility by having participants reach for their toes while seated on the floor with their knees flat and legs extended.

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Thirteen years later, the results were matched up against the Canadian Mortality Database, revealing the deaths of 238 of the test subjects. Surprisingly, upper body strength, grip strength, and flexibility had no effect on survival; however, participants with weak abs experienced a higher death rate than the rest of the group, even when the results were adjusted for age and central adiposity (that is, weight carried around the waist).

Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., of York University in Ontario, who coauthored the study, found the results somewhat perplexing, particularly since push-up performance appeared irrelevant. “Skeletal muscle is a major storage site for glucose in the body,” he said. “It may be that abdominal muscular endurance is a marker for glucose metabolism, which helps protect against many chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

Yogis have long understood the importance of strong abdominals. But instead of just developing the surface muscles, or “six-pack abs,” yoga also focuses on the underlying muscles to build abdominals that are both strong as well as flexible. “Strong and supple abs allow for a fuller exhalation, increasing the quality of each breath and directly effecting our vitality,” says Clayton Horton, director of the Greenpath Yoga Studio in San Francisco and a former triathlete.

Which poses can help you to develop stronger abs? Clayton says that Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) and Plank Pose are two excellent all-around toners that develop strength in the upper and lower abdominals. “In addition, Navasana (Boat Pose) trains all four abdominal layers, particularly the lower abdominals, which often tend to be overlooked.”