In the 1920s, Joseph Pilates created a now extremely popular form of exercise. He came up with a series of movements that not only incorporated stretching but also encouraged the body to build muscle. He coined the fitness approach after himself, calling it Pilates and it wasn’t long before this unique workout grew in popularity over the years, with over 10 million active practitioners.
While Pilates shares some similarities with yoga, particularly the emphasis on the mind-body connection, Pilates places stronger importance on balance, flexibility as well as muscle toning. In fact, Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise – that uses various apparatus – that not only provides a unique workout, but it also provides a number of health benefits that are sure to boost your longevity.
Benefits of Pilates
1. It boosts your brain health
The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognitive function. Unfortunately, beginning in our late 20s, we begin to lose at least 1% of the volume of the hippocampus. Thankfully, research has discovered that our brains can create new cells thus slowing down, and possibly reversing, brain shrinkage. So what’s one way to do this? Leading an active lifestyle. Doing so won’t only help to protect your IQ, but it may also reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
For instance, research published in the reported in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found superior brain function in a group of people after they had practiced Pilates or yoga when compared to aerobic exercise. Additionally, a separate Chinese study found a cognitive increase in people after 10 weeks of Pilates training.
2. Helps to build a strong core
Yes, a strong core can help to achieve those sculptured abs that so many of us crave, but there’s more to it than that. In fact, as core muscles are the center of the body, a strong core can help to maintain function, balance as well as stability. A strong core can also mean less strain on the neck and shoulders.
Unlike a traditional crunch, being a full-body workout, Pilates helps to more effectively strengthen your abdominal muscles. In fact, research published in the Musculoskeletal Care journal found that doing a Pilates routine over a period of 12 weeks helps to boost core strength.
3. Helps to address back pain
Around 80% of adults will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. Yet it seems that a low-impact class may help to address the discomfort. This is because, as mentioned, Pilates strengthens the core muscles and this helps to support the back, and encourage proper alignment.
According to a case study from the NHS, after visiting 50 specialists, a woman suffering from back pain went on to discover that Pilates was the one thing that helped to cure her ailment. Another study, found in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, revealed that a Pilates program provided significant pain relief after a 12-month period.
4. Improves your posture
Attending a Pilates class may help to fix that poor posture that you get from slouching at your desk all day. Did you know that poor posture can eventually cause backache, neck ache, as well as headaches? What’s more, it’s also been linked to depression (1).
Thankfully, Pilates can help to prevent all of these issues by fixing your posture. This is because it focuses on your core muscles, which strengthens your back, and it encourages proper alignment and posture.
5. Increase your flexibility
Flexibility is less about how well you can do the splits and touch your toes, and more about your ability to move. Unfortunately, we lose our flexibility as we age so it’s important to engage in activity that will help to improve it.
Pilates encourages stretching, and this can help to enhance one’s flexibility. For instance, research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness noted an improvement in flexibility in participants after an 8-week Pilates routine.
6. Can help with weight management
If you’re looking to better manage your weight this year, then look no further than a Pilates class.
For one, Pilates helps to create stronger muscles as well as a much leaner look. That said, the fitness approach may also encourage some forms of weight loss. According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, a group of overweight women, who were living a sedentary lifestyle, practiced Pilates three times a week for eight weeks, and they lost weight and inches in their waist.
The movements may not seem as intense as your average cardio workout, but Pilates definitely has some fat-burning capabilities.
7. It can help you sleep better
If you’re having trouble sleeping, then maybe you should make Pilates part of your bedtime routine.
Pilates has a calming influence on your mind, and that’s often what we need when we’re struggling to get some shuteye. In fact, a study presented at a SLEEP Conference found that people were less likely to battle sleeping issues if they walked, ran or practiced Pilates.
8. Helps your lungs breathe better
Pilates not only stretches and strengthens the core muscles, but it also does the same for your diaphragm, allowing for deeper breaths. Deeper breathing allows for a boost in both your lung capacity and strength. This also means improved blood circulation, which boosts your body’s functionality.
9. Increases Self-Awareness
As mentioned, Pilates places a strong emphasis on the mind-body connection, and this then serves to increase self-awareness. This self-awareness allows us to identify issues at a much quicker rate, resulting in us not only recognizing the issue at hand but also addressing it.
This can range from small muscle aches to joint pain, to even something more mental. Pilates will help train you to be more aware of these issues so that you can address them as soon as possible.
Want to know more?
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, Pilates can also help to strengthen your pelvic floor – which can do wonders for your sex life. In fact, as it is the month of love, here are a few yoga poses that you can adopt to boost your sex life.
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Gaskell, L, Williams, AE. A qualitative study of the experiences and perceptions of adults with chronic musculoskeletal conditions following a 12‐week Pilates exercise programme. Musculoskeletal Care. 2019; 17: 54– 62. https://doi.org/10.1002/msc.1365
Gothe, N., Pontifex, M. B., Hillman, C., & McAuley, E. (2013). The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 10(4), 488-495. Retrieved Feb 11, 2020, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jpah/10/4/article-p488.xml
Kibar S, Yardimci FÖ, Evcik D, et al. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2016 Oct;56(10):1139-1146.
Rydeard, R., Leger, A., Smith, D. (2006) Pilates-Based Therapeutic Exercise: Effect on Subjects With Nonspecific Chronic Low Back Pain and Functional Disability: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 36:7, 472-484
Şavkın R, Aslan UB. The effect of Pilates exercise on body composition in sedentary overweight and obese women. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2017;57:1464-70. DOI: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06465-3
Wilkes, C., Kydd, R., Sagar, M., Broadbent, E. (2017). Upright posture improves affect and fatigue in people with depressive symptoms. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Volume 54, Pages 143-149, ISSN 0005-7916, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.07.015.