Why it’s important: Pelvic floor muscles, the sling of muscles that connect the pubic bone and tailbone, are responsible for maintaining sexual, bladder and bowel function, supporting organs and facilitating the actions of the spine and legs. Women are susceptible to weakness in this area, particularly after childbirth. “We tend not to concentrate on these muscles,” says Amy Stein, a New York physical therapist who specializes in pelvic pain and is the author of Heal Pelvic Pain. “But any dysfunction in the pelvic floor could cause dysfunction in the bowel or bladder, such as incontinence, and painful sex.”
Exercises that work: Sheila Dugan, MD, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, recommends two exercises for pelvic muscles, including the coccygeus and levator ani: Lie on your back with bent knees, feet on the floor, and then smoothly draw in lower belly muscles as though you are wearing a girdle or corset. Hold for a count of five, then slowly release. Do 10 of these twice daily.
For a second exercise, lie on your back, and lift the internal pelvic muscles in and up (your hips don’t actually come off the floor) for a count of five, then slowly lower for a count of five. Repeat as often as possible during the day.