Most people admit they feel great after Pilates class. No matter how reluctant we may feel about getting to the studio, completing our workout leaves us feeling satisfied, mentally alert and physically at ease.
Movement – as long as it’s appropriate to our needs – does make us feel better, often immediately, always in the long term. Just the simple act of moving our limbs through their full range of motion, elevating our heart rate a little, and increasing the demand on our bones and muscles sparks a cascade of feel-good, do-good reactions in our bodies and brains. Motion is lotion.
Evidence is mounting on the benefits of movement and exercise not just on our general health, but also in the management of chronic and age-related disease. In fact, there are now initiatives in place in some countries to encourage doctors to prescribe exercise to their patients, as an alternative to pharmaceuticals, in health management.
Does it follow then, that movement is medicine?
If you’re sick, or feeling unwell, or in pain, go to the doctor! Movement can’t replace medicine in all instances. But movement can drastically improve our health.
Exercise can help prevent the onset of diseases such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and ease the symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. Strength, including grip strength, endurance and balance are key indicators of longevity. Movement improves brain health and decreases age-related decline in memory.
Part of the health benefit of movement is its impact on weight management, but the impact is often different than what we expect. Caloric deficit is necessary to lose weight. Very few people exercise enough to affect their caloric deficit. Exercise does however improve eating behaviour.
Exercise reduces stress and helps alleviate depression, helping to control emotional eating.
It makes your brain fatigue-resistance, so it has the energy to think clearly about what you should eat. This is further enhanced by exercise improving quality of sleep.
Exercise – especially if it is intense – has an appetite-suppressing effect that can last for hours. On the psychological level, people who exercise regularly develop a keener interest in healthy eating to fuel their physical activities.
Mindfulness and mindful movement, including Pilates or any exercise approached with focus on mind-body connection, has myriad positive health benefits. Mindfulness increases activation of the frontal cortex, decreases anxiety and improves psychological wellbeing. Mindfulness also improves immune functioning, reduces stress related cortisol, reduces chronic pain and improves cognitive function.
The science is there to support what we have known in our bones forever. Movement heals. Exercise is not a punishment. It is an opportunity to celebrate and enhance our physical, mental and emotional strength and resilience. Movement will make us live if not longer, then better.
Find something you love – or at least like to do – and as the running shoe people say, just do it!