TRYING to keep your stomach "sucked in" can cause serious health problems.
A doctor has warned the habit, adopted by many to workout their abs and give the appearance of a flat stomach, can cause long-term damage.
It can be done either by trying to keep your belly physically pulled in by tensing your abs, or by forcing yourself into tight waistbands.
Both can hurt your body, and can be far more damaging than just feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious.
Dr Adam Taylor, an anatomist from Lancaster University, said: "Abdominal muscles are responsible for keeping the body stable, protecting the spine and ensuring our organs stay where they’re supposed to."
Keeping your belly pulled in can cause the abdominal muscles to become imbalanced.
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And over time, this can lead to a condition called “hourglass syndrome” – a change in the structure of the abdominal wall.
"This change can also have a knock-on effect on the internal organs and other parts of the body, if left untreated," he wrote in The Conversation.
It happens because when we suck in our stomach, only the top of the stomach actually activates and get stronger – while our lower abdomen become weak and underused.
Dr Adam said: "This creates a fold or crease in the abdomen over a long period, with the belly button being pulled upwards."
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He explained what can happen if the muscles are constricted for too long:
Hinders ability to breathe
There’s limited research looking at the effect of hourglass syndrome on breathing capacity.
However, research on abdominal strapping (where the whole abdomen or only part of it is strapped to aid recovery from a muscle injury or after surgery), suggests sucking in could limit breathing.
The 1989 study showed a 34 per cent decrease in the amount of air that’s exhaled and a 27 per cent to 40 per cent reduction in total lung capacity.
"It’s uncertain if this leads to long-term changes in breathing capacity," the doctor said.
"But in the short term, this may it harder to exercise – and you may also feel fatigued earlier due to reduced oxygen coming into the bloodstream," he added.
Damage pelvic floor
Sucking in the abdomen can place strain on the pelvic floor – the muscles at the base of your pelvis.
The pelvic floor help to keep your bladder, uterus, vagina and bowel n the right place, the NHS says.
Sucking in and weakening the muscles could then lead to potential bladder incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, the expert said.
Neck and back pain
Holding in the stomach can cause pain in other areas of the body including lower back and neck issues, the expert said.
"This is because they now have to compensate for changes in core stability," he added.
Do I have Hourglass Syndrome?
As well as having the health issues listed above, you may have some of these physical signs:
- A slightly upturned belly button
- One or more noticeable horizontal creases around or above your belly button.
- Good, firm definition in your upper abs but a significantly softer lower ab region (that is, a “pooch”)
Source: The Cleveland Clinic
Is it permanent?
If you develop hourglass syndrome it isn't permanent, but can cause problems in the long term if not treated properly.
Just as it takes time for sucking in to become second nature, it takes time to unlearn it.
The first step to kicking the habit is to be aware you’re doing it.
Be conscious of what you’re doing to your body and when.
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Stephanie Taylor, a pelvic floor expert at Kegel8, previously told the Sun: "You may find you have to retrain your muscles through belly breath work and abdominal massage.
"Take relaxed breaths in that fill your stomach instead of filling only your chest."
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