5 easy secrets to a flat, sexy belly! (Part 1)

Last week I told you how to quickly firm up your butt: This week is part 1 of my flat ab fest. A slim middle not only looks and feels good (no pesky pooch) but also is good for you; a smaller waist is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. But I'll admit that I'm not a big "cruncher." I take more of a "whole life" approach to ab toning-because a bazillion studies show that it's the little stuff you do all day long that adds up to results. These are my favorite tricks:

1. Stand up straight This will automatically pull in your abs and make you look instantly leaner. Slumping also shortens your abdominal cavity, so your belly has nowhere to go but out. Plus it looks, well slumpy. You know how dancers walk? Shoulders down, chin out, chest up, spine straight? Channel your inner ballerina-or pretend you spine is made out of steel. Either way, just make it a habit.

2. Try the magnet trick I do this one everywhere-in meetings, on the train ride home, watching TV. It's inspired by the Pilates directive to pull your navel into your spine, but I find this imagery much more powerful. Imagine there's a magnet pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Practice this tucking motion until it becomes comfortable, and soon it will come naturally-like breathing. Try it right now: Your top will immediately feel looser (how's that for instant results?).

3. Sit like a queen If you're like most people, you probably spend at least part of your day perched in front of a computer-which is a ticket to slump city. Instead, pretend you're a queen on a throne and sit tall. If you're not feeling terribly regal, try putting a pillow at the small of your back to help bring you forward in your chair.

4. Do belly-centric cardio You need to do cardio to burn calories so you lose body fat, but it's good to mix it up to stay motivated. Some quick ideas, in no particular order: tennis (the swinging motion engages your obliques), a boxing class (all that punching, jabbing, and bobbing targets your entire midsection), and belly dancing (self-explanatory).

5. Clean house Vacuuming, sweeping, and scrubbing the tub all use your abs, and if you're consciously engaging those muscles and employing the magnet trick above, you'll get even more toning (and a clean house). It may not be the most glamorous way to flatten your belly, but it's the essence of functional fitness: You don't get strong just so you can lift heavier weights at the gym; you do it so it gets easier to lug a suitcase-or a 3-year-old-through the airport. And when you're done, you've got a sparkling home and more toned belly. Bonus!

Tell me your favorite stealth belly-flattening trick, or ask me anything you're dying to know about ab flab, and I'll respond in next week's post!

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[photo credit: Getty Images]