Introduction to Pilates

Pilates is ‘A thinking way of moving’

Also known as the ‘Body Control Method’, Pilates is a system of slow, flowing, and precise movements developed in the 1920s and onwards by the German-born Joseph Pilates, (born 1880). Described as ‘a thinking way of moving’, Pilates works by developing and integrating our awareness of our bodies, our core strength and our mobility. This combination enables us to achieve ‘functional fitness’ – to know and be able to use our own true strength and flexibility effectively.

Pilates himself began his exploration of physical potential through having suffered a range of debilitating conditions himself in childhood years, including rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. He embarked on a spirited and determined quest for achieving his own peak physical condition, and in time it seemed a natural progression that he would begin to take responsibility for helping others to realise theirs too.

Pilates practice first gained popularity with dancers, then more widely among sportspeople, and now is a favourite among all. Joseph Pilates left Germany for New York in 1926, where he began to be highly valued among the New York dance community. By 1956 it was reported that ‘virtually every dancer in New York had meekly submitted to the spirited instruction of Joe Pilates.’

Today, Pilates has something to offer everyone, whether their lifestyle is largely sedentary and office-bound, hectically energetic or physically demanding. It requires some patience to learn and is less likely to appeal in itself to younger children. However, as an ‘as well as’ exercise to be used in schools or sports clubs, the principles of Pilates could save young people from ever getting into the bad postural habits that some adults spend many hours learning how to undo.

Pilates develops long, lean muscles and core strength

Pilates builds strength from the inside out and can have a visibly powerful effect on the shape and even height of our bodies. It is essentially the complete opposite of ‘body-building’. Instead of building ‘big’, short, bulky muscles by isolated weight-lifting exercises, Pilates continually works to stretch and strengthen our muscles, using carefully controlled movements to build a longer, leaner, stronger and more flexible body. Pilates teaches that our power lies in a central column of complex muscles in the torso and pelvis, and that our strength comes from proper alignment, awareness and breathing rather than brute force.

Pilates works as a reliable partner with other forms of exercise

Pilates teacher Michael King calls Pilates not an ‘instead of’ but an ‘as well as’ form of exercise; it works in a way which is extremely effective in complimenting other exercise programs, sports or performance arts. For example, Pilates can help the golfer rebalance their body after building up one side of muscles through their ‘swing’, and it can assist in building stamina, concentration and relaxation for performers including dancers, singers and actors.

Pilates is a ‘physical intelligence’ for everyday life

Pilates is a non-competitive physical conditioning program which can help people of all walks of life take care of their bodies. It can help us to live our everyday lives more enjoyably and effectively. For example, teaching us ways to avoid back pain by protecting and strengthening our backs if we do a lot of desk work or driving, or training our bodies so that we are less likely to injure ourselves in everyday tasks like lifting an object.

“The mind, when housed within a healthful body, possesses a glorious sense of power.” – Joseph Pilates 

What to expect at a Pilates class

Pilates generally involves a lot exercising on a mat on the floor. Some of the exercises performed in a Pilates session may seem not dissimilar to the stretches, sit-ups or even push-up type exercises of conventional fitness regimes, but the approach and method of doing them is completely different.

You need to wear comfortable loose/stretchy clothing, and in time you may wish to get yourself a Pilates mat for practice at home (you do need something soft between you and the floor for Pilates exercises).

Who can do Pilates?

Pilates includes many different movements and ranges in levels of difficulty, so therefore can suit anyone. Teachers advise first becoming familiar with the main principles of Pilates before engaging with the deep postural muscles, concentration and breathing.

Who can it benefit?

Sufferers of posturally-based back pain, sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries and stress can benefit from Pilates. It is especially helpful in offering ways to prevent and change problematic postural habits that can lead to experiences of occasional or even chronic pain. Osteopath Piers Chandler, writes that the Pilates method “can genuinely complement treatment and accelerate recovery. Some patients who are referred to Pilates teachers never need any further regular treatment.” Pilates can also contribute greatly to a supportive recovery program for people with sports injuries. The practice of Pilates is also known to help counter anxiety and stress.

“Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” – Joseph Pilates

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Drug Therapy Fails to Control Blood Pressure During Exercise

People with high but under control blood pressure saw a jump in their levels during exercise, an increase that mirrored the spikes seen under similar conditions among people with untreated hypertension, according to a new British study.

The findings open up the possibility of tailoring blood pressure treatment to a patient’s activity level.

But the study’s senior author emphasized that routine exercise continues to be one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure in the long run, since regular physical activity strengthens the heart and allows it to pump more blood with less effort.

“We don’t want to put people off exercising because it’s been proven that training to be fitter does help control blood pressure, which in return reduces your risk of having a heart attack and stroke,” said Emma Hart, an associate professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience.

She’s the senior author of the study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Researchers measured the impact of sudden exercise on four small groups of people, 59 in all. Three of those groups had high blood pressure: one had the condition under control through treatment, primarily medication; another group received treatment but did not have it controlled; and the third group did not treat their high blood pressure at all. The fourth group had normal blood pressure.

In the study led by Benjamin Chant, a doctoral student at the University of Bristol, participants in all four groups took exercise tests on stationary bicycles. They had their blood pressure measured every 90 seconds until they reached a point where they couldn’t exercise any further.

Blood pressure generally rises for everyone during exercise, but only to reasonable levels in people who are healthy.

But blood pressure rose excessively among the study group who had their blood pressure under control. Similar rises occurred among patients whose condition was either uncontrolled or untreated.

The exaggerated increase started when participants had only reached a moderate level of exercise — around 50 percent of their peak point.

“We’re now starting to think that it may be more important to aim for controlling blood pressure during physical activity, even just day-to-day physical activity, rather just at rest,” Hart said. “Because if you’re getting these repeated rises in excessive blood pressure, then that’s probably not good for your cardiovascular system.”

Researchers believe part of the reason for that increase is a chemical byproduct released by muscles during exercise that tells the brain to increase blood pressure. This process, called the metaboreflex, is hyperactive in people who have high blood pressure. The new findings suggest the reflex also is fairly immune to medications that are normally prescribed to treat high blood pressure.

Peter Raven, a retired physiology and anatomy professor with the University of North Texas Health Science Center who was not involved in the study, said the report’s findings suggest that doctors shouldn’t base their efforts to control blood pressure on measurements taken when people are at rest.

“They really should be tested, within a clinical setting, during exercise. It could be at the moderate level, but I would suggest they be taken at the max, so that you could identify whether the drug therapy they’re using is the one that will maintain their blood pressure even while they’re exercising,” said Raven, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

Hart again appealed to people to continue exercising — but after consulting with their doctor first. She noted that her study was conducted on generally inactive people given a “one-off bout of exercise.”

“I live in Bristol, which is very hilly. If someone who is very sedentary suddenly needs to walk up a hill, that might not be good,” she said. “But if you are more trained — say you’re repeatedly climbing up that hill every week — then that probably will help reduce your risk of having a cardiovascular event.”

Hart said next steps will involve taking a look at more fit people and the impact that fitness level has on blood pressure during exercise.

Source: HealthDay


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Increased Physical Activity, Not Weight Loss, Enables Heart Patients to Live Longer

The finding was according to a new study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

NTNU researchers have found that heart disease patients can gain weight without jeopardizing their health, but sitting in their recliner incurs significant health risks.

Weight loss seems to be associated with increased mortality for the participants in the study who were normal weight at baseline. The survey, which is an observational study based on data from HUNT (the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study), was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

Researcher Trine Moholdt in NTNU’s Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging collaborated on the study with cardiologist Carl J. Lavie at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans, and Javaid Nauman at NTNU.

They studied 3307 individuals (1038 women) with coronary heart disease from HUNT. Data from HUNT constitute Norway’s largest collection of health information about a population. A total of 120,000 people have consented to making their anonymized health information available for research, and nearly 80,000 individuals have released blood tests.

HUNT patients were examined in 1985, 1996 and 2007, and followed up to the end of 2014. The data from HUNT were compared with data from the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry.

During the 30-year period, 1493 of the participants died and 55 per cent of the deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

“This study is important because we’ve been able to look at change over time, and not many studies have done that, so I am forever grateful to HUNT and the HUNT participants,” said Moholdt.

Exercise and live longer

The study revealed that people who are physically active live longer than those who are not. Sustained physical activity over time was associated with substantially lower mortality risk.

Participants in the study were divided into three categories: inactive; slightly physically active, but below recommended activity level; and physically active at or above recommended activity level.

The recommended activity level is at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or 60 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity.

A little is better than nothing

The risk of premature death was higher for the group of patients who were completely inactive than for either of the other groups. The prognosis for people who exercise a little bit, even if it is below the recommended level, is better than not exercising at all.

“Even being somewhat active is better than being inactive, but patients have to maintain the activity level. Physical activity is perishable – if you snooze you lose its benefits,” Moholdt says.

Exercise hard

HUNT participants were asked how hard the exercise activity was for them. Moholdt points out that this is a good way to determine the intensity of the exercise. A half-hour walk can be experienced very differently depending on how fit the person is.

The question then becomes how to translate these findings into practical guidelines.

“The clinical guidelines for heart disease patients currently include having normal weight and being physically active. I would put more emphasis on the exercise aspect. When it comes to physical activity, you have to do what gets you in better shape. That means training with high intensity. Do something that makes you breathe hard, so that it’s hard to talk, but not so hard that you can’t do it for four to five minutes,” says Moholdt. She adds that heart disease patients are often in poor shape, so it often doesn’t take much to get into high intensity mode.

When asked whether any of the study results were unexpected, Moholdt said that they weren’t surprising in terms of physical activity. “But the fact that gaining weight posed no increased risk when patients were already overweight, I think is a bit surprising,” she said.

Correlation between weight loss and increased mortality

The results indicate that weight gain does not seem to increase risk for already overweight patients, which would mean that it isn’t dangerous for a fat heart patient to gain a few pounds. What is dangerous is if the person does not engage in any form of exercise.

The findings in the study showed higher mortality among normal weight heart patients who lost weight. Moholdt points out that the survey is an observation study that does not look at underlying causes. It may be that patients who lost weight were sicker.

The obesity paradox

The development of cardiovascular disease has a causal relationship with obesity. Despite this strong correlation, the results from major meta-analyses indicate that people with cardiovascular disease who have a body mass index (BMI) above the normal weight range have better prognoses. This is often called the obesity paradox.

“What we’ve known for a while is that for heart patients it seems to be an advantage to be fat – the so-called obesity paradox. But although it seems like it pays to be overweight and that weight loss affects these patients adversely, all of these data are based on observation studies. To prove causality, randomized controlled trials are needed,” says Moholdt.

The relationship between BMI and life expectancy is complicated and depends on several factors. Erroneous sources are plentiful. Results from another analysis showed that normal weight, healthy non-smokers have the lowest risk of premature death.

Slimming down isn’t necessarily wrong

This study’s results do not mean that it is never a good idea for an overweight heart patient to slim down. Moholdt and her colleagues note in their JACC article that “in our view, desired or intentional weight reduction may be useful for overweight or obese individuals, although little data supports this view in studies of coronary heart disease patients.”

One hypothesis is that weight loss is associated with improved survival among overweight and obese coronary heart disease patients. This correlation was not evident in the study.

“It may be that weight is less important for heart patients, but we know that physical activity is very important,” Moholdt says.

Get rid of the bathroom scale

She believes that many people start exercising to lose weight, and then quit when they don’t get the desired results in the form of weight loss.

Moholdt encourages people to get rid of their bathroom scale. She says that numerous studies have shown that body composition changes through exercise and that muscles weigh more than fat.

“Exercise has a beneficial effect on all organs in the body – on the brain, heart, liver, vascular system and of course on our musculature,” she says.

Source: EurekAlert!


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How Much Exercise Needed to Help the Aging Brain?

Maureen Salamon wrot . . . . . . . . .

It’s well-known that exercise benefits the brain as well as the heart and muscles, but new research pinpoints just how much — and what types — of exercise may promote thinking skills as you age.

Reviewing data from dozens of studies on older adults, scientists found that those who exercised an average of at least 52 hours over about six months — and for about an hour during each session — showed improvements in their thinking skills. The research didn’t show a link between a weekly amount of exercise and better brain function.

“The data seem to suggest … you have to keep exercise up for a while before you start to see these changes actually impact your life in a positive manner,” said study author Joyce Gomes-Osman. She directs the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Neuromotor Plasticity Laboratory.

Study participants experienced specific, significant changes in mental sharpness, Gomes-Osman said. These included improvements in processing speed, or the amount of time needed to complete a task; and executive function, or the ability to manage time, pay attention and achieve goals.

“This is also super-encouraging, because these are the first two things that people, as aging progresses, start to have problems with,” said Gomes-Osman, who’s also a postdoctoral research scholar at Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “The study provides evidence that with exercise, you can actually turn back the clock of aging in your brain.”

Adults older than 60 will comprise 2 billion of the world’s population by 2050, and the highest priority of this age group is staying mentally sharp, according to the U.S. National Council on Aging. But while much scientific evidence has established positive effects in the brain from exercise, scant research has addressed just how much exercise is needed to promote brain health, according to the study authors.

Gomes-Osman and her team reviewed 98 studies involving more than 11,000 participants that analyzed various exercise “doses” and their relationship to improved brain performance. The researchers sought to identify consistent patterns of reported effects on thinking skills.

The reviewed studies all focused on older adults (average age 73) who were asked to exercise for at least four weeks. Their tests of thinking and memory skills were then compared to those of peers who did not start a new exercise routine.

Among all participants, 59 percent were categorized as healthy adults, while 26 percent had mild cognitive impairment, which can precede the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Another 15 percent had diagnosed dementia. A total of 58 percent of participants did not exercise regularly before being enrolled in a study.

Of those who exercised, aerobic exercise was the most common type, with walking the most common form. Some studies incorporated a combination of aerobic exercise along with strength or resistance training; a small number used mind-body exercises such as yoga or tai chi.

Ultimately, any form of exercise was found to be beneficial to thinking skills in older adults, including aerobic exercise, strength training, mind-body exercise or combinations of these. Notably, these effects extended to those with established dementia, the researchers said.

How does exercise work to help the brain? Dr. Ajay Misra, chairman of neurosciences at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., said physical activity improves blood circulation “all over the body — that includes the brain.”

Additionally, exercise produces endorphins, natural “feel-good” chemicals that promote increased motivation and enjoyment, said Misra, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

“That improves your overall view of life, which is beneficial in terms of cognition,” he added. “It improves your outlook on life, so you keep on exercising.”

Gomes-Osman’s advice to people of any age — especially those concerned about brain health — is simple.

“I tell people to get moving,” she said. “We’re not made to be sitting around — we need movement. I encourage people to make an appointment with themselves to get moving and to keep it up for a while.”

The study was published online in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice.

Source: HealthDay


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Exercise to Stay Young: 4-5 Days a Week to Slow Down Your Heart’s Aging

Participating in exercise 4-5 days per week is necessary to keep your heart young, according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology. These findings could be an important step to develop exercise strategies to slow down such ageing.

The optimal amount of exercise required to slow down ageing of the heart and blood vessels has long been a matter of vigorous debate. As people age, arteries – which transport blood in and out of the heart – are prone to stiffening, which increases the risk of heart disease. Whilst any form of exercise reduces the overall risk of death from heart problems, this new research shows different sizes of arteries are affected differently by varying amounts of exercise. 2-3 days a week of 30 minutes exercise may be sufficient to minimise stiffening of middle sized arteries, while exercising 4-5 days a week is required to keep the larger central arteries youthful.

The authors performed a cross-sectional examination of 102 people over 60 years old, with a consistently logged lifelong exercise history. Detailed measures of arterial stiffness were collected from all participants, who were then categorised in one of four groups depending on their lifelong exercise history: Sedentary: less than 2 exercise sessions/week; Casual Exercisers: 2-3 exercise sessions per week; Committed Exercisers: 4-5 exercise sessions/week and Masters Athletes: 6-7 exercise sessions per week. (NB: an exercise session was at least 30 minutes).

Upon analysing the results, the research team found that a lifelong history of casual exercise (2-3 times a week) resulted in more youthful middle sized arteries, which supply oxygenated blood to the head and neck. However, people who exercised 4-5 times per week also had more youthful large central arteries, which provide blood to the chest and abdomen, in addition to healthier middle sized ones.

The fact the larger arteries appear to require more frequent exercise to remain youthful will aid the development of long-term exercise programmes. They also enable the research team to now focus on whether or not ageing of the heart can be reversed by exercise training over a long period of time.

The research may have been limited by the fact that individuals were allocated to groups based on past exercise frequency, as opposed to other components of exercise programmes such as intensity, duration or mode, all of which could have large impacts on vascular adaptations. Furthermore, additional, unmeasured factors such as dietary intake and social background could influence arterial compliance indirectly through reduced adherence, or by non-exercise related means.

Benjamin Levine, one of the authors of the study, is excited to investigate this in the future:

“This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programmes to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels. Previous work by our group has shown that waiting until 70 is too late to reverse a heart’s ageing, as it is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training. Our current work is focussing on two years of training in middle aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the ageing of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time”.

Source: EurekAlert!


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