If you have ever taken a Pilates class, then you know how great you feel afterwards. Pilates has so many fabulous benefits. I begin with a quote from the founder himself, Joseph Pilates. “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness”. Who doesn’t want to live a happy harmonious life? Let’s look deeper as to why we feel so blissful after a class. In our late twenties, brain cells begin to slowly diminish in an area of our brain, called the hippocampus. This region of the brain controls memory, as well as cognitive functioning. Cognitive functioning refers to how a person thinks. Reasoning, learning and problem solving are just a few of its functions ( Fisher & Chaffee, 2019). For many years, scientists believed we were born with a certain number of brain cells. The thought was that the aging process literally caused our brain cells to die off, because of brain shrinkage. However, within the last 6 years, studies have shown that exercise actually enhances neurogenesis (which is a fancy word for the creation of new brain cells). When your brain produces new cells, and protects the ones you already have, your cognitive functioning stays strong. In turn, there may be a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (Reynolds, 2012). Scientists are now referring to exercise as the “Miracle Gro” of new healthy cells. As we exercise, an increase in Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) production takes place. BDNF is defined as a nerve protecting compound. A group of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign reported that brain functioning seems to be much stronger after mindful movement, which includes Pilates. Who wouldn’t feel happier when their brain is functioning correctly (Nordqvuist, 2013). Practicing Pilates also helps to soothe one’s mind and emotions. We live in a world where chaos is everywhere. Therefore, we all need an outlet to let go of the stress and strain of daily life. The concept of mindfulness has its origins in ancient Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Ellen Langer (pioneer researcher of Mindfulness) acknowledges that these three factions have spirituality in common. However, she believes mindfulness is less about spirituality and more about quieting your mind and focusing on the here and now. In order to destress during a Pilates session, your focus must be on your body rather than on other mundane distractions. Another strong benefit of Pilates centers around the belief that the body has the ability to release tension and stress. You have probably experienced the “fight or flight” syndrome a time or two. Kendra Cherry (2019) defines the fight or flight response as a physiological action which happens internally in the midst of something terrifying, either mentally or physically. When you enter that mode, your body releases a stress hormone which gives you the adrenalin you need to persevere. What happens when stress hormones stay within your body, and remain unchecked? Hypertension (high blood pressure) can develop, as well as muscle spasms and pain. Through gentle, gradual stretching and consistent attendance, physical stress and tension can be alleviated. Sprinkle a Pilates mat class into the mix and voila! The result….. Happiness of body and mind. Lastly, Pilates helps the body to release endorphins (the feel good hormones). When you make that mind/body connection, you are bound to live a happier life!
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References Cherry, K. (August, 2019). How the fight or flight response works. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from verywellmind.com Fisher, F., & Chaffee, S. (2019). Theories of cognitive aging and work. Work across the Lifespan. Retrieved from Sciencedirect.com Langer, E. (December, 2013). 12 scientifically proven benefits of Pilates for your piece of mind. Pilates Bridge. Retrieved from Pilatesbridge.com Reynolds, G. ( April, 2012). How exercise could lead to a better brain. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from The New York Times Magazine.com