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6 Ways Pilates Benefits Your Mental Health

Who has a New Year's resolution to look after themselves a little more? It's widely reported how Pilates can help back pain, but the mental health benefits of the discipline are often overlooked. Thus, here are six ways in which Pilates can help your wellbeing.

1) Pilates promotes mindfulness.

Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzz word at the moment, but for good reason: the benefits are numerous, including boosted immunity, health and emotional resilience. Pilates' focus on slowing down, breathing and close attention to your body's movements has been shown to enhance mindfulness: Caldwell et al (2013) suggest Pilates improves something they term 'sensory awareness', which may reduce stress, help relaxation and lead to mood improvements.

2) Exercise releases endorphins

Even moderate exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, our body's natural 'feel-good' chemical. After twenty to thirty minutes (and even less if you're new to exercise), endorphin release will be triggered, potentially bringing about feelings of euphoria and general wellbeing.

3) Pilates promotes happiness

If you suffer from chronic discomfort and restricted movement in your joints, your mental health can suffer. Likewise, we can hold our emotions in our bodies - stress often finds its way to our neck and shoulders, fear and sadness to our hips, anger to our jaw. Pilates aims to release these areas of tension, regain mobility, and rebalance the body, hoping to eliminate (or at least reduce) daily aches and pains. Studying breathing has also been shown to help us control our emotions more - and breathing is one of Pilates' fundamentals. As Joseph Pilates himself said, "Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness": if we learn to move and breathe properly, we can become happier.

4) Exercise leads to a better brain

Studies have shown that exercise improves neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells) and protects existing cells. Exercise has therefore been linked to building a better memory, lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and improved learning and problem solving. The co-ordination aspects of Pilates also help to build better neuromuscular pathways in the body, meaning our brain's messaging is more efficient and capable.

5) Group exercise classes reduce stress levels

This year, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association published findings that exercising as part of a group (as opposed to alone) improved emotional wellbeing by 26% in its study. Stress levels were also found to be reduced - by 26%. Group Pilates classes are a great way to meet people, have fun and socialise: there's chance to talk, make friends and laugh, alongside improving your physical fitness.

6) Rotating reduces stress

In a fascinating 2016 study, the University of Pittsburg found that the neural pathways associated with our 'fight or flight' response (i.e. when we are under stress) are shared with those of our postural muscles. The research suggests that Pilates' movements can calm these stress responses, particularly, according to Lynne Robinson (the 'High Priestess of Pilates'), when we undertake rotational movements. So 'bread and butter' Pilates movements such as the waist twist, threading the needle and hip rolls are all working to reduce our stress levels.

What do you think? Have you found Pilates has helped your mental wellbeing?

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