The Abs Have It (excerpt from Play Forever)

If you could focus on only one part of your body to change and strengthen, consider investing in your abdominal muscles. Here is why you should—and a simple exercise for getting the abs you deserve.

Why You Should Exercise Your Core

The abdominal muscles, from the rib cage down to the pelvis, control how you move as much as how you look. When they are weak, the belly protrudes, hanging over the belt and jiggling its way along almost as an appendage. The distended belly acts like a seesaw, with the weight providing strain on the muscles of the back to prevent you from falling over. Back pain, so common in adults, is often caused by weak abdominal muscles and can be cured by strengthening them. Yet many of us ignore our abs.

Until recently, we were taught to do the classic sit-up for abdominal strength. Yet “crunches” can cause neck and back pain for many, and arthritis can make this exercise impossible for some older people. Also, it is difficult to develop a sustainable rhythm that permits enough of the exercises to be performed.

An exercise ball provides the easiest pathway to rock-hard abs. Lie on a large ball centered in the middle of your back with your feet resting against a wall. Lean back far enough to see the ceiling, and rest your hands on your belly. Slowly bend forward to an upright position. This is the motion that works. Suck in your belly button while doing this exercise and it will engage the entire range of upper and lower abdominal muscles.

Don’t count. The number of reps you do is not as important as doing them mindfully. Close your eyes, relax, and feel the rhythm of the motion and the gradual training of the muscles. Find the pace that permits your mind to wander and the exercise to continue forever. Set your phone timer to five minutes and slowly progress to fifteen minutes over the course of three months.

To gradually make the exercise more difficult, hold a weight of five to twenty pounds. Swing the weight behind your head as you lean back and bring it forward as you sit up. Be sure to hold your belly button in.

The mesmerizing rhythm of this exercise makes it addictive and remarkably effective. Do it daily and notice the effects on your body, your self-image, and your ability to move without as much pain. When walking or sitting, hold your abdomen in, set your shoulders behind your hips, hold your head high, and smile. The key to molding our bodies to fit the image we want for ourselves lies in adopting everyday behaviors that walk the talk—even if the conversation is only inside our heads.


For more guidance on how to effectively strengthen your body for a lifetime check out Dr. Stone’s new book Play Forever: How to Recover from Injury and Thrive, on Amazon now. 

Medically authored by
Kevin R. Stone, MD
Orthopaedic surgeon, clinician, scientist, inventor, and founder of multiple companies. Dr. Stone was trained at Harvard University in internal medicine and orthopaedic surgery and at Stanford University in general surgery.

Dr. Stone's New Book, Play Forever, is Available Now

Play Forever book by Kevin R. Stone, MD
Dr. Stone's Book, Play Forever, is Available Now
What is Play Forever? Dr. Stone wrote Play Forever to help injured athletes and those with arthritis discover how to stay active for a lifetime.