Pilates: Good for the Body, Great for the Brain
A recent study, published in the International Journal of Evidence Based Healthcare, analyzed data involving participants taking part in leisure activities that required the brain to work and think, which helped reduce the risk of Alzheimers.
Dr. Verghese from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, noted that increased levels of mental stimulation helped reduce the risk of dementia.
We are faced with multi-generational challenges with different hobbies, levels of activity and leisure, but the possible brain dysfunction that could await us is on the rise and for some, already starting to present itself in some form or another.
Our generations are affected differently by their leisure activities and habits. Baby boomers occupy a large portion of Pilates studio space as well as Gen Xers. They are at some risk of developing brain disorders, but the level of activity maintained shows promise in preventing cognitive failure. Face-to-face contact and communication is an art which seems to have been neglected with these 2 generations, albeit it is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience and longevity.
Millennials and Centennials are probably the most advanced generations of all times, however the most at-risk for developing brain disease later on in life. They are an “on” culture. Their survival instinct which is designed to be triggered in emergencies is hyper-sensitive, due to instant gratification caused by their upbringing, web searches and social media. The biochemical effect of this hair trigger instinct causes cravings, stress symptoms, irritability, fear and many other damaging physical symptoms. All of these can cause brain dysfunction in the later stages of life.
The great news is that Pilates is an excellent way to help prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimers. Although there is no scientific proof to this, research has shown that mentally training the brain and regular cognitive activity in the child, middle age or older adult showed significant signs of slower late-life cognitive decline.
Joseph Pilates, founder of our great Method, said: “To achieve the highest accomplishments within the scope of our capabilities in all walks of life we must constantly strive to acquire strong, healthy bodies and develop our minds to the limits of our ability”.
By challenging the brain, we improve cognitive function by creating new connections between nerve cells, which helps the brain store and remember information. This is what Pilates is about. The mindfulness approach to this Method supersedes the physical aspect when it comes to the body and brain connection. We become aware of our bodies, we start to listen to our bodies and we start to connect with our bodies. Where does this mindfulness come from? Our minds. We are training our brain with each exercise we do.
Ralph La Forge of Duke University (I.) proposed five likely criteria for determining whether an activity is ‘mindful’; such activities include
- a self-reflective, present moment and nonjudgmental sensory awareness (think of a Pilates class when you’re listening to the cues from the instructor and you are so focused on an exercise you forget everything else)
- a perception of movement and spatial orientation (we wouldn’t have Pilates without alignment, awareness of our bodies and our space)
- focus on breathing (think of Joseph Pilates with his thick German accent… “You must out the air before you can in the air”)
- attention to anatomical alignment (feet, knees, hips aligned….sound familiar?)
- awareness of one’s intrinsic energy (in Physics, this means working from within, without any help from without)
This is everything we teach in Pilates.
Here is a excerpt from the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health (II.)
“The Pilates Method is a form of somatic education with the potential to cultivate mindfulness – a mental quality associated with overall well-being. However, controlled studies are needed to determine whether changes in mindfulness are specific to the Pilates Method or also result from other forms of exercise. This quasi-experimental study compared Pilates Method mat classes and recreational exercise classes on measures of mindfulness and well-being at the beginning, middle and end of a 15 week semester. Total mindfulness scores increased overall for the Pilates Method group but not for the exercise control group, and these increases were directly related to end of semester ratings of self-regulatory self-efficacy, perceived stress and mood. Findings suggest that the Pilates Method specifically enhances mindfulness, and these increases are associated with other measures of wellness.”
Pilates is the best form of exercise to help you flex your mental muscles. When participating in various different types of fitness, we often go in auto-pilot mode and just move our body for the sake of moving our body and getting our workout accomplished. In a Pilates class or one-on-one, you are constantly reminded to check-in, focus on your breath, feel for muscles, taught about anatomy and how things should feel in your body. It gets you to think and concentrate for the full hour. In return, you leave relaxed, toned, refreshed and rejuvenated.
So whether you’re a Baby-Boomer, Gen Xer, Millenial or Centennial, get out there and flex YOUR mental muscles and get to a Pilates class near you. Your body will thank you for it, but your brain will be forever grateful.
If you're in the Halton Region, visit us at www.cornerstonepilates.com for more info on how Pilates can help prevent the cognitive decline of the brain.