SOUND MIND, SOUND BODY: Pelvic health crucial, even if you don't want to talk about it

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The pelvic floor may not be the average conversation topic at a sit-down dinner, but its function and risks of associated disease are vital to understand.

The pelvis attaches to the spinal column and the femurs as well as abdominal, leg, gluteal and back muscles, making it a vital structure that attaches and mobilizes the torso and the legs.

People generally imagine bones and muscles as "cookie-cutter" pieces. This common mentality forgets that muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons attach various body parts, including organs, together.

The pelvis houses the bladder, intestines and uterus, as well as the urinary and anal sphincters. The pelvic floor "view" would be equivalent to examining the base or bottom of the pelvic structure and organs. This area must remain strong for proper posture, healthy child-bearing and elimination.

Weak muscles and ligaments in the lower abdominal and pelvic area can lead to trauma or collapses of the pelvic floor. In addition, trauma from child birth, competitive athletics and surgery may damage the pelvic floor. One common ailment is the "fall" of the pelvic floor, known as pelvic organ prolapse. This occurs when a pelvic organ drops from its normal spot in the area of the stomach and presses against the wall of the vagina.

This is common among older women and mothers. Women in menopause or who have undergone hysterectomies are also at risk for a prolapse. It can also be a genetic condition.

Athletes may damage the pelvic floor. Although trauma is rare, females participating in horseback sports, cycling, rugby or water skiing may experience damage. This is due to hard falls or blows to the stomach from a horse or person that may damage the internal organs.

Also, these sports rely on significant core strength; therefore, people participating with weak core muscles may prolapse an organ with that shocking body contact. The core muscles and visceral fat protect our internal organs and bones.

Although pelvic floor issues affect mostly women, men should be aware of pelvic floor dysfunction, which affects both sexes and according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons includes "constipation and the sensation of incomplete emptying of the rectum when having a bowel movement."

Chronic constipation is also one of the many symptoms of colon cancer, the fourth most common cancer in men and women.

Walking and jogging are effective exercise that relieve constipation. Drinking water is vital to maintain proper elimination, too. Women should drink nearly 2.7 liters of liquid a day and men should consume 3.7 liters daily.

Successful core strengthening programs include yoga and Pilates. Pilates is known for strengthening core muscles to aid in proper posture and alignment. Many Pilates programs are aware of women's internal health and focuses on pelvic tilts and "deep core" muscle strength. Water aerobic classes have high success in building core strength while integrating cardiovascular exercise.

The pelvic floor is an important, uncomfortable topic for many, but with a general understanding of that area of our body we are able to further comprehend the importance of core strength. Remember that the body works as a unit and you need all the parts for a sound mind, sound body.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience from India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is the associate director of healthy living at the YMCA. She can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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