Health & Fitness

Take holistic approach to flatter abs

The question was put to us this way: Are there any holistic solutions for toned abs?

The abdominal muscles are actually a set of six muscle groups that together support the body's core. They include the transverse abdominals, the internal obliques, the external obliques and the rectus abdominis.

These muscles are important for the body's posture, strength and stability. They also help the diaphragm in breathing.

Interestingly, your abs are not meant to be flat but somewhat rounded. And achieving flat abs may be hard if you have the lower-belly "pooch" that we get in middle age or with childbearing.

So here are some holistic secrets to flat(ter) abs.

* Eat lean protein, fruits and veggies, and avoid animal fats and processed carbohydrates. This will help decrease your overall body fat and thus take off the fat layer covering up those abs. You can have a six-pack, but you will never see it if it's covered with those extra 5 or 10 pounds.

And unfortunately, you can't spot-reduce.

* Avoid foods that make you bloated — and foods with a high "gassiness" factor such as beans, certain starches such as pasta and potatoes, soft drinks and fruit drinks, lactose-containing foods and vegetables such as cabbage and asparagus.

* Bring your intestine into balance by eating probiotics, either as supplements or fresh in yogurt or kefir. This will decrease overall abdominal bloating.

* Avoid excessive water retention by decreasing the sodium in your food, preferably to less than 1,800 mg a day.

* Try yoga crunches (the reverse of traditional leg lifts): Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Rest your hands over your head on the floor and raise your legs with your feet flexed toward the ceiling. Use your ab muscles to slowly guide your legs downward. Stop when you feel your back arching. Hug your legs to your chest again. Repeat. Build up to 20 in a row. Repeat three to five times.

* Try regular crunches, three to five sets of 20 a day. Remember: The secret to flat abs is doing the exercises right. That means the abdominals have to be pulled in, not bunched up or poofed out. With improper posture, the rectus abdominis is getting shorter and bunching up. This might make the muscle stronger, but it will not result in balanced core strengthening or a flat belly.

* Be realistic about what your body can achieve, and love your body through its life changes. We spend too much time criticizing minor flaws and too little time grateful for all that our body does for us.