5 Reasons to Strengthen Your Core

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Strengthening your core (the muscles from your hips to your shoulders) is like giving yourself a full-body makeover: You'll feel smarter, younger, and better all over. Mark Verstegen, author of Core Performance (Rodale 2004), makes the case for a hard core workout.

1. It Reduces And Prevents Pain

"A strong core stabilizes you and works like a natural brace for your joints."

2. It Makes You Look Taller and Thinner

"When you strengthen your upper back and shoulders, the muscles are pulled back and down, removing any trace of a hunch."

3. It Delays the Aging Process

"A strong core keeps your body aligned, so that you can function properly."

4. It Improves Mental Function

"Having a stable and aligned spine allows your brain to receive your body's messages more efficiently."

5. It Improves Performance

"Stabilizing your core hones your fine motor skills, so you can react quickly and stay balanced on unstable surfaces."

Pilates: The Core Builder These three Pilates exercises from Michelle Dozois of Breakthru Fitness Pilates in Pasadena, California, will work your core from all angles.

Double-Leg Stretch

Lie with knees and hips bent 90 degrees, shoulders off the floor, hands on shins. Pull your abs in and flat, extend legs and arms to 45 degrees, and circle your arms. Repeat 10 times.

Side-Lying Double-Leg Lift

Lie on your side with legs stacked, head on bottom arm, top arm on the floor. Squeeze legs together and lift off the floor. Hold for a breath, return to start. Do 10 reps, switch sides.

Reverse Plank with Leg Raise

Sit with legs outstretched, hands behind your butt, fingers forward. Press onto your hands, and lift your right leg, keeping hips raised. Hold 3 seconds. Repeat 5 times for each leg

Photos by Darryl Estrine