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Pilates and Brain Health

Can Pilates help my brain health?

Pilates can help your brain health because research shows our levels of physical activity in mid-life are strongly related to our levels of brain health as we age. The equation is simple, the more fitness you maintain the lower your chances of developing dementia and other signs of poor brain health. Exercise is more powerfully linked to good brain health than all the other life-style choices and habits researched for optimal brain health. The link between exercise and a healthy brain persists even with other risk factors such as smoking and high cholesterol in the mix.

What are the benefits of Pilates for our Brains?

People who exercise regularly will have less age-related shrinkage to brain tissue, improved memory, Improved ability to concentrate, better mood and better sleep. These exercise related gains are supported by BDNF a growth factor in the brain. Cognitive performance can be enhanced by a dose of exercise before specific events and Alzheimer’s and dementia risk are significantly reduced by habitual exercise.

Does brain size matter?

Exercise has been conclusively shown to improve brain volume. Yes, our brains shrink as we age, and exercise can impact positively on this outcome over quite a short time frame like 6 months. And the amount can be as little as 10 to 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day or 3 x 30 mins a week. Activities like gardening and housework are also beneficial and count towards a weekly exercise prescription for our brain volume, brain health and our overall health and well-being. 

What else about Pilates can help my Brain Health?

Pilates provides three other important ingredients for long lasting brain power.  There are 5 key ingredients for lasting brain power and Pilates produces 4 of them. The 5 key ingredients are firstly and most importantly exercise, then healthy diet, learning and social engagement, lower stress and heightened well-being and lastly sleep. Pilates can help with 4 of these directly, all the key ingredients for long term brain health are Pilates benefits except for healthy diet.

Will Pilates improve my memory, problem solving ability and mental flexibility?

Although brain health and exercise studies have mostly been conducted on aerobic exercise, promising results from research into resistance training (Pilates can be included here) and more holistic exercise styles like Yoga and Tai Chi (Pilates can be included here) is being found.  We can improve memory, brain function and problem solving after only 12 weeks regular exercise. 

Does Pilates help to lift depression and anxiety?

Exercise has been strongly linked to improved mood. Pilates brings a calm and quiet mental state with its emphasis on mindful movement and breathing techniques. This cal, quiet state happens when the brain is engaged together with the body to discover and refine the control and precision emphasised by the Pilates method. Other exercise forms still help our mood and anxiety level but can be “mindless” and lack focus on the breath rhythms. Often the chattering mind must be entertained by watching movies or listening to podcasts as we run or cycle in the gym. 

Can Pilates support mindfulness?

Pilates promotes mindfulness, a state of paying attention to the present moment without judgement. This state is linked positively to lower levels of anxiety, stress hormones, worry and depression and to higher levels of emotional regulation, improved memory, spoken communication and sense of perspective. The breathing techniques used in Pilates can help us to establish mindfulness or a meditation practice more easily as many of these are based on observing the breath. 

Learning on the Pilates Reformer.

Learning and social engagement are highlighted as brain healthy activities and Pilates can provide opportunity for both. The Pilates method requires an active mental engagement to execute the sequences on the Pilates Reformer or mat with understanding and precision. Challenges to build an understanding and memory of new sequences also help our brain to stay agile. We also build up “cognitive reserves” when we engage in problem solving games or activities like playing musical instruments. When these activities are done with others like in a Pilates class or community choir for example the benefits increase yet again. 

What other healthy brain habits can Pilates improve and support ?

Sleep is essential for a healthy happy brain and Pilates helps us to sleep better. Simply put, even small amounts of physical activity like a few Pilates exercises, a walk or a little gardening combined with good sleep hygiene can improve sleep quality. Mindfulness, another Pilates benefit, is a very powerful tool for improving sleep. Mindfulness decreases the activation of the autonomic nervous system and improves our ability to relax into sleep mode and to sleep better. 

Where can I find out more about Brain Health?

‘The High Octane Brain’ by Dr Michelle Braun is a fantastic guide to the science and the actions we can take to improve our brain health, sharpen memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.


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