How Pilates Helps You Stay Active all Day
Move it or lose it, as they say, has more truth than many people realize. Have you ever noticed that the less you do, the less you want to do? So, it would stand to reason that as you gradually increase your activity level, the more you will want to and in turn the more you will be able to be active.
The way we work has changed quite a bit over the last few years, and people today spend more time seated behind a desk and/or the steering wheel, and under greater and greater amounts of stress. All this can lead to bodies that carry more stress and tension than they can handle. We’ve developed weak muscles in some areas and tight muscles in others, and all of this has meant that, at the end of the day, we are tired and unwilling to go out and get some much-needed exercise. In part, that is due to the fact that these weak and tight muscles are at a higher risk of injury—so now we also have to worry about what the consequences of even small everyday movement might be.
If you are one of these people and you’re looking for a safe way to get moving and stay moving, you may want to consider the art of Pilates, a low-impact workout that can go a long way toward helping you stay active all day long.
Increase Your Energy Levels
A very important factor in being more active throughout the whole day is having more energy, and there are several ways that Pilates can help to promote higher levels of energy.
A good night’s sleep is integral to feeling well rested and able to take on the day feeling energetic and eager to be active. Any kind of regular activity can help a person to feel ready for bed and to have a good night’s sleep, but some forms of exercise can be too energizing and, if performed too close to bed time, can actually act as a deterrent to sleep.
Pilates on the other hand, while sometimes strenuous, is also meditative in nature with its more mindful approach to moving the body and purposeful approach to breathing, which means that it can be performed in the evening without being disruptive to a restful night.
Breathing may be second nature, but many people breathe in a very shallow fashion that does not allow the body to function to its fullest potential. Proper breathing techniques are an important building block of Pilates that if practiced on an ongoing basis can help to increase lung capacity and strengthen the diaphragm, which leads to increased oxygen levels in the body. Muscles need oxygen to function properly, so by increasing the amount of oxygen that your muscles receive, you will feel invigorated and notice that your endurance and ability to complete more difficult exercises will improve.
With continued practice, Pilates can lead to lowered blood pressure and better overall cardiovascular health. A healthy, strong heart is better suited to moving the blood and much-needed oxygen throughout the body, making you feel more energized, and gives a person the confidence needed to be active without the fear of overtaxing the body that can come with a weak heart.
Decrease Your Stress Levels
It seems to be just a plain fact that life as we know it is full of stress and, unfortunately, we tend to hold that stress in our bodies, resulting in tense muscles. The gentle stretching and strengthening during a Pilates workout help to loosen tense muscles that may not be responding to passive stretching. Getting the stress out of our bodies is an ideal way to help relieve stress in the mind.
Increase Your Self Awareness and Boost Your Self-Esteem
In order to start moving more, you need to feel good about moving. Pilates can help you to have a better understanding of how your body works, and help to boost your self-confidence as a result. It is also well suited to any level, from complete beginner to extremely advanced.
You can find a class for any level and never need to worry about being judged for not being able to keep up with the rest of the class. All classes are closely monitored by the teachers, and there is a lot of one-on-one attention, ensuring that each student never feels lost or confused during a workout.
Pilates will naturally encourage better alignment of your body and better posture as they teach you to be more self-aware. Better posture both looks and feels good as you strengthen your muscles. Have you ever noticed that dancers seem to have an air of confidence about them? Well, they are extremely self-aware and have had years of practice learning to move with proper alignment and to maintain correct posture even when they are at rest. This self-awareness creates a deep understanding of how their bodies work. When you have a better understanding of how your body works and moves, you can’t help but begin to have greater trust and, through that trust, more confidence in yourself.
Being that this type of activity is a low-impact workout, participants tend to reap the benefits of the feel-good endorphins that are released during physical activity, without the same high stress response from the body that can come from some high-intensity, high-impact exercises, making it much more likely that you would want to keep returning. And of course, the more often you work out, the higher the chances are that you will begin to see results and truly begin to enjoy exercising.
The rhythmic breathing techniques that are taught can make the difference between completing a difficult exercise or not. These techniques can also help a person learn to breathe through other stressful situations that may come up during daily life. A study posted in Psychology Today notes that there is a close correlation between our breathing and our emotions, so if we can learn to control our breathing it stands to reason that we can learn to literally breathe ourselves into a calmer state. And as anyone who has successfully navigated a stressful occasion knows, it can be quite beneficial at raising a person’s self-esteem and will promote a more confident attitude going into the next stressful situation.
Exercise is well known for its ability to help fight depression and the mindful nature of Pilates only adds to its ability to boost a person’s mood and aid in dealing with anxiety. During a Pilates workout, there is so much focus on proper movement and controlled breathing that the mind doesn’t have time to focus on the troubles of the outside world. Many people also find that the standard forms of meditation that sees the body stilled may not be to their liking. Pilates instead focuses on mindfulness through movement so may be easier for some people to enjoy and succeed at.
Increase Your Range of Motion to Make Moving More Enjoyable
Stretching and flexibility for some are more of an afterthought instead of a true goal, but increasing your flexibility can help to make the movements associated with everyday activities easier and more comfortable, which works wonders for making a person feel like they want to (and can) keep moving.
Another benefit of Pilates is that it involves active stretching by engaging the muscles to provide resistance, rather than passive stretching, which is holding the stretch in a static pose. Active stretching helps to build strength at the end range of motion, which can help to prevent falls and other types of strains and injuries.
Harvard Health Publishing posted an article noting that any activity that works to stretch the muscles can help to reduce back pain and balance problems, which in turn aides in preventing injuries. Especially as a person ages, increasing the ease with which your body moves and your range of motion can work to improve your confidence in your body’s ability to safely enjoy activities that you previously thought were out of reach.
Pilates is beneficial to your overall flexibility, whether you choose to use a reformer or work on a mat, but the reformer does have some added advantages. The reformer is large enough that it allows a person to reach end-range motion, which allows for development of flexibility and strength at the same time. The resistance provided by the springs and straps allows a person to build strength at the end of their range of motion, which cannot be achieved through passive stretching. Keep in mind though, flexibility work on the mat can be performed almost anywhere you can throw down a mat and you can mimic some of the resistance of the straps by using a tension band, so either is a good option if you are worried about which to choose or if you are aren’t able to access a gym with reformers.
Listed below are a couple of good introductory stretches that can be performed anywhere and are great for relieving built-up tension and building flexibility at the same time.
The Swan is an extension exercise that is great for counteracting all the time we generally spend in a seated position throughout the day. It targets the hip flexors, which also become quite tight while sitting, and abdominals. It can be great for opening the chest and getting a good stretch along the spine.
To perform the swan:
- Lay face down on a mat and place your hands just under your shoulders with elbows bent and arms held close in to the body. Legs can either be kept together or shoulder width apart depending on what is most comfortable.
- Engage the abdominals and draw them inward, up and away from the mat.
- Inhale as you press your forearms and elbows into the mat to lift the head and upper body. Make sure to keep the head in line with the spine and keep your hips pressed into the floor.
- Exhale and lower your body back onto the mat slowly, through the lower belly first, the mid belly and finally the chest.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
The Wall Roll Down provides a great overall stretch for the body. It is also great for releasing any tension that you may be holding in your back, shoulders and neck, and can also provide a nice stretch to the hamstrings.
- To begin, stand comfortably against a wall with feet planted at hip width apart. Walk your feet out about six inches, relax your shoulders down and draw in your abdominals.
- Take a nice Inhale and then exhale as you slowly round down, leading with your head. Imagine that you are peeling your back off the wall one vertebrae at a time. Keep your abdominals drawn in as you lower down as far as you can without your hips leaving the wall.
- Inhale at the bottom of the movement and then exhale as you engage your abdominals to slowly bring your upper body back to standing. As you did on the way down, imagine going one vertebra at a time, this time placing them back onto the wall as you lift up.
Decrease the Pain in Your Body Associated with Movement
Time is stated as a huge deterrent when many people are asked why they aren’t as active as they would like to be, but another issue that many people don’t like to admit to is pain. Pain itself can be very draining, and unfortunately the nature of modern work sees many of us spending more and more time engaged in prolonged poor posture, which causes imbalances in our muscle structures. The muscles on the front of the body become over-developed and tight, while the muscles on the back side become elongated and weak. This combination can cause quite a bit of discomfort, and the fear of even more pain can really deter people from wanting to be active even in the smallest of ways, like going for a walk in the evening or playing with their children outside.
Reformer Pilates has been around for some time now but has recently seen a spike in popularity. The machine may look daunting at first, but it has many advantages and is well worth giving a try. Using a reformer teaches a person how to use the muscles of the body properly and can be quite beneficial for assisting in the rehabilitation of someone who is suffering from neck and shoulder pain, as the exercises focus on stabilizing the muscles that support the spine.
Working on a reformer provides a low-impact, full-body workout that strengthens the whole body, with an emphasis on core conditioning and increased postural awareness. Stronger muscles that are better aligned can help to reduce the discomfort associated with sitting for long hours and even help to create a more mindful state. This mindfulness helps you to remember to use better posture throughout your day and can greatly help to relieve the tension built up in the shoulders, neck and back from poor posture.
Listed below are two beginner exercises that use the reformer. They are both great for offsetting the effects of long hours spent in a seated position and poor posture.
Chest expansions are a great exercise for those experiencing tight chest muscles and a sore upper back from rounded shoulders, or neck strain from long hours spent sitting or driving. This exercise sees the participant seated on the long box section of the reformer with knees bent and feet placed on the headrest.
- Place your hands in the loops with arms extended at your sides. Inhale to prepare and then exhale as you press back through the palms, extending back through the shoulders in order to open up the chest.
- Hold the arms in this position and inhale as you turn your head to one side and then to the other.
- Exhale and return your head to center.
- Return the arms to their starting position but make sure to keep slight tension in the straps, even at rest.
The Spinal twist is an exercise that can help to ease tension that may have built up in the back after a long day at the office. In order to perform the spinal twist:
- Begin in a seated position with legs crossed and, facing sideways on the reformer carriage, take hold of the long loop with both hands.
- Extend the hands out in front of you while keeping the shoulders down and away from the ears.
- While keeping the arms extended and at the height of the breast bone, exhale and twist to the right, inhale and then return to center. Remember to sit up tall and engage your core throughout the entire movement.
- Repeat this movement 5 times on both sides.
While this may just feel like a stretch, this exercise also works to strengthen the back.
Improve Your Overall Strength and Reduce the Risk of Injury
One of the results of Pilates that many people find especially rewarding is the increased strength and reduction in the chances of injury that they experience with continued practice. Actually seeing with your own eyes that your muscles are changing, and feeling activities become easier, can be a real confidence boost when considering hopping on that bike again or going for a hike that you may have been previously unable to tackle.
The exercises used in Pilates work to target the core muscles of your body, specifically the abdominals, lower back, hips, and glutes. Strengthening these muscles works to stabilize the body, providing increased balance while performing daily activities, and greatly reduces the risk of having a bad fall. As well, the type of imbalanced muscles that comes as a result of long periods of sitting is a huge source of injury, similar to those seen with athletes who perform repetitive motions, such as tennis players or golfers.
With a concentration on slow and controlled movements that originate from the core and a heightened awareness of how the body moves, these exercises will help to greatly improve coordination and reduce the chances of tripping over or colliding with objects. Additionally, an increased awareness of the body will help a person to understand, accept and move within any limitations they may have, which can provide a great deal of confidence.
The soreness that most people associate with working out stops many of them from returning to the gym after their first experience with intense exercise. Although Pilates can be intense, it does not stress the muscles in the same way as a Cross-fit or HIIT class, so there is less chance that you could strain a muscle. Most classes are 60–90 minutes yet the muscles are not worked to exhaustion, and there is no high impact exercises, so the muscles do not need as much time to recover. This means that you won’t be too sore and are much more likely to be active the day after your workout instead of needing to take a break.
Pilates is also used by many physiotherapists as a rehabilitative tool, so as well as preventing injuries in the first place, you may wish to look to Pilates to help you recover from any injuries you are currently dealing with and safely return to an active life, with the knowledge and physical ability to avoid further injury down the road.
Putting it all Together for a More Active Future
All of these factors combined—increased energy, heightened self-awareness, decreased pain, better flexibility, and a decrease in your chances of getting injured—are benefits of Pilates that are sure to have you feeling energized and ready to tackle any activity that might come your way during the day. Knowing how your body works and that it is in fact capable of carrying you safely through the day provides the confidence needed to say yes and get back to a happy, healthy, active lifestyle.