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Mindful Movement: 5 Ways Pilates Benefits Mental Health

Pilates is a popular exercise method that focuses on strengthening the body's core muscles, improving flexibility, and enhancing overall physical health. But did you know that Pilates can also have a significant impact on your mental health? I personally have felt the positive effects on Pilates for my mental health and a decrease in the severity of my anxiety disorder.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are common mental health issues that can have a significant impact on overall well-being. The prevalence of mental health conditions is actually frightening with the World Health Organisation stating that “Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression.” While not a full proof solution Pilates and exercise in general can help. The slow and controlled movements of Pilates help the mind focus on the body's sensations, reducing racing thoughts and promoting a sense of calm. The emphasis on breathing during Pilates also helps to calm the nervous system and promote relaxation. This is confirmed in a study conducted by the University of Limerick which found that “ Pilates resulted in significant, large, heterogeneous reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms and feelings of fatigue, and increases in feelings of energy”

Enhancing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an essential aspect of mental health. According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat ZinnMindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” While Pilates’ main focus is not on developing a mindfulness practice, the control and body awareness that is required for each movement means that each participant needs to be acutely aware of their own body, its movements and breath at any point in the class. Often referred to as ‘ the thinking man's exercise” it requires a great deal of concentration around each movement, thus not leaving very much time or space for other mental activities ( such as fretting, depressive thoughts and worrying) to take hold in the mind during a class.

Boosting Mood

Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. According to James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, “there's good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,"

The reasons are multifaceted, firstly exercise is known to produce endorphins which is a mood boosting hormone in the body, furthermore the controlled and precise movements involves mental focus which often acts as a respite from ruminating depressive or anxious thoughts, thus breaking the negative cycle. Lastly there are a number of additional benefits of Pilates all of which all lead to a greater quality of life, including regulating sleep patterns, boosting self esteem and generating a sense of accomplishment.

Improving Concentration and Focus

Each of the movements in Pilates are executed with acute focus and concentration. In fact two of Joseph Pilates original basic principles were concentration and precision. In order to be precise the mind needs to be solely focused on the task at hand, this means that in a Pilates class while the body is getting a good all round workout, so is the mind. In addition, learning any new skill ( in this case Pilates ) can help promote cognitive function.

“When you exercise, you engage your muscles to help improve overall health,” says Dr. Ipsit Vahia, for Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital. “The same concept applies to the brain. You need to exercise it with new challenges to keep it healthy.

Promoting Better Sleep

Sleep is crucial for mental health and well-being, as it allows the body to rest and repair. In fact it can be argued that proper sleep patterns are one of the most important health factors after water consumption and a healthy diet. According to research done by Chen, Z et al. sleep disruption can have a huge impact on mental health, increasing the symptoms of depression, neurodegenerative disorders, it has a negative impact on the cardiovascular system and even increases mortality.

So while we know the risks for poor sleep, we are also equally sure about the benefits of exercising in relation to improved sleep patterns :

Based on available studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. , medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep.

Pilates offers many benefits for both physical and mental health, making it a valuable exercise method for overall well-being. From reducing stress and anxiety to boosting mood and self-confidence, Pilates can help improve mental health outcomes and enhance overall quality of life. By incorporating Pilates into your regular exercise routine, you can experience the many benefits for yourself and enjoy a happier, healthier life.

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