13 great ways exercise can help prevent disease and boost health.

Alzheimers. Type 2 Diabetes. Breast Cancer. Colorectal Cancer. Prostate Cancer. Heart Disease. Depression. What do these major health conditions all have in common? Exercise can prevent, lower the risk of, or in some cases even reverse the effects of the condition.

How?

We all know that this is what researchers say but how does exercise actually change us on a cellular level?

Aside from preventing disease I’ve long been an advocate of using exercise as medicine or at the very least to complement it.

Following on from the talk I gave a few weeks ago aimed at Breast Cancer survivors (evidence now points strongly towards using exercise to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back), I’ve collated some of the coolest science snippets about how exercise actually changes us, beyond our skin and bones.

Prepare yourself for some serious dinner party human biology titbits!

  1. When we exercise our mitochondrial production increases. Mitochondria are the body’s battery cells, they are what give us energy. So exercise literally gives us more energy. [KELLY et al, 2006].
  2. When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to synthesise protein. This means our body can convert protein much more readily.  [HANDS, 2009].
  3. When we exercise we increase our lean tissue (muscle mass) or sustain what we already have. Lean tissue naturally decreases with age so we can halt the ageing process [HANDS, 2009].
  4. When we exercise we increase our body’s ability to regulate glucose [Adams, 2013]. This is an important factor in managing diabetes, or reversing type 2 diabetes.
  5. Exercise helps activate muscle fibres which would otherwise be reduced due to lack of use and age related atrophy (sarcopenia). The best treatment for sarcopenia is exercise. With the right programme, you could see a difference in as little as two weeks.
  6. Pre-habiliation, so getting strong or being fit before surgery can help operation recovery. This could also be true for some injuries or illnesses.
  7. When we exercise our body’s natural anti-oxidant levels up-regulate. This helps us to fight off disease. It’s like boosting our natural defence mechanisms.
  8. Gentle exercise, like yoga or walking can help manage stress. This is measurable through heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is an excellent way of measuring the early signs of stress.
  9. Any exercise which increases our heart rate for 20 minutes increases blood flow to the heart and the strength of the heart wall.
  10. Learning a skill helps with myelination. Myelin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. Our ability to learn a skill stays with us (although it gets harder as we age). Kids are programmed to myelinate more so they can learn how to survive. They have specific windows of opportunity for doing this such as learning to eat, crawl or walk. Myelin never unwraps (although there are rare diseases like Guillard Barre Syndrome or conditions like Multiple Sclerosis which may cause this). We can enhance myelination by learning a challenging new skill and also by eating foods rich in Omega 3 and B vitamins (think brain food).
  11. Exercise which is fun produces dopamine, a happy hormone. Some intense exercise also produces endorphins which make you feel good. This can improve emotional health.
  12. When we exercise we use more oxygen. Oxygen is the natural way to alkalise the body.
  13. Any movement or simply standing is good for us. Non Exercise Activity Thormogenesis (NEAT) refers to the way our metabolism increases through any activity, not necessarily a specific type of exercise. So our metabolic rate increases just by standing rather than sitting. Brushing your teeth standing up is better for you than performing the same task seated.

And here’s one more thought to leave you with … our cells are constantly regenerating. It’s estimated that human cells are completely regenerated every 7-10 years. All of the above, plus what you eat, drink or expose your body too will affect cell regeneration. Does that motivate you to get moving? It does me.

So there you have it. Human biology to amaze your friends with and proof that what you choose to do with or to your body on a daily basis affects your health.

If you’d like to take disease prevention a stage further, Fit School offer DNA testing. DNA testing can give you a better idea of what foods or exercise are optimum for you (the individual) and how to tailor your programme in line with these results. Tests are currently available at the discounted rate of £190 (usually £270) and Chris is one of a handful of trainers in the UK who offer this type of testing.

 

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How to ‘get better’ at Pilates

Whether your a beginner or a life long fan of Pilates, the aim of the game is to achieve a level of fitness, strength, mobility and flexibility that allows you to perform ‘the moves’ and feel good.

But as with all forms of exercise, it’s easy to plateau – to find your progression (and perhaps your interest) wanes.

So how do you progress with Pilates?

RollOver

Pilates progression, like all forms of exercise is based on two basic training principles:

The Specificity of Training Principle and The Overload Principle.

The Specificity of Training Principle states that the body will adapt to whatever specific demand you place on it. Be it your Pilates One Hundred, a 40kg deadlift or long distance running. 

If you’re a beginner to Pilates it may take a while for your body to adapt to the new exercises (I always reckon 3-4 weeks is a real turning point) but this is great since you won’t hit a plateau (training plateau where you stop progressing) as quickly as Pilates regulars. 

Once you can do the exercises however, you’ll maintain your fitness levels or ‘ability to do Pilates’ levels but won’t progress. 

This is where the Overload Principle comes in to play.

The Overload Principle states that to continually adapt, the body must be placed under a stress that exceeds the body’s current capabilities. 

This is a little easier to do when you are using weights or running than it is in Pilates. Remember in Pilates we never want to stress the body to the point we are holding our breath, bracing or using the ‘wrong’ muscles. It’s not a sweat it out gym workout. It’s much more considered. 

But you can still work the edge of your own comfort zone rather than staying comfortable and daydreaming! 

This is where an instructor who’s on your case and continually adapting the programme is much more beneficial to your body than a drop in class where the programme rarely changes or progresses. 

So this is why there are progressions to each exercise and why I always stress that it’s about your comfort zone, not that of the person next to you. 

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Pilates isn’t an abs workout

PILATES IS NOT JUST ABOUT TRAINING YOUR ABS. YES THEY ARE PART OF THE PROCESS AND AN INTEGRAL PART OF MANY EXERCISES BUT THERE IS A LOT MORE TO PILATES THAN YOUR TUMMY.

There are some exercises which look or feel similar to abdominal crunches and there is a place for abdominal strength and control when it comes to a healthy body but no amount of Pilates style ab work will send your six pack pinging out of your torso if you have flab on it. Myself included.

Conversely, abs don’t have to be strong to be seen. I’ve seen six packs on lean mean who can perform fewer exercises than the average post natal mum returning to the mat. And let’s not forget the best sprinters in the world who have abs you could dry your clothes on but who I very much doubt do the numbers of crunches I’ve seen performed in the average gym abs blast class.

Aside from whether or not you choose to attend or deliver a class comprised entirely of abdominal work, let’s consider the issues associated with some abdominal work. Yes, those pesky pelvic floor muscles. Any pelvic floor weakness or prolapse, or an abdominal separation (diastasis recti) will not appreciate (understatement) crunches. If want to know more about this have a read of my post on how NOT to get a flat tummy by doing sit ups. That’s not to say you can never do them again – but a post natal specific programme is essential before rolling headlong into a ‘one size fits all’ Pilates session.

Pilates is about balance. Your body is designed to move across many planes. Forwards and backwards, side to side and twisting. Think about a gymnast on a beam or on a pommel horse. Consider how they move their bodies. Come to my classes and you’ll know that we work through a variety of exercises as if your body was being spun around. Why? Because we are ‘multi-planar’ beings and things go wrong/start hurting/get expensive when we STOP MOVING, not necessarily when we get weak (I’ll talk about this more in my next post about core strength).

 

Now of course if training your abs lights your fire and makes you feel good, by all means do it but equally don’t misunderstand Pilates as an abs workout and then leave feeling a bit disappointed. Enjoy the way your back works and your glutes work. Enjoy the way your body moves. Go with the Pilates flow.

See you on the mat!

Next time … Pilates isn’t about core strength.

 

Pilates isn’t about sculpting body beautiful

I’VE been teaching Pilates for at least 10 years now and I confess, I look back at my early days and cringe a little at how I taught or what I focused on. Of course at the time, my theory and practical knowledge was up to date but modern science combined with Joseph Pilates’ original exercises, my own experiences and education (most recently from the brilliant JPilates) have created a very different ‘Karen’s Pilates’ from what I taught 10 years ago. I was also much more likely then to be swayed by the more vocal participants in my classes!

As in all professions, experience and training influences and shapes you. I believe that where I’m at now would hopefully let Joe P rest easy under his daisies. It’s true to me and to the participants I work with.

Of course as my experience evolves I get a bit ‘fussy’ about what other forms of ‘Pilates’ are out there. I don’t believe in one size fits all but I am in this profession to improve lives and health. Wellbeing.

So I’m penning a series of articles about what Pilates isn’t. That doesn’t mean if you enjoy your chosen class it’s wrong – it just might not be Pilates. And there is a brilliant magic and flow in the process of Pilates, which you, your body and your wellbeing might just be missing out on.

PILATES IS NOT ABOUT SCULPTING BODY BEAUTIFUL. PILATES ISN’T AESTHETIC LIKE A FIGURE MODEL’S GYM PROGRAMME. PILATES COMES FROM THE INSIDE OUT. PILATES WON’T MAKE YOU THIN AND IT WON’T WHITTLE YOUR WAISTLINE.

  1. THE FAT THING.

Fat is fat. No amount of roll ups, teasers or gym crunches will drop belly fat. Fat loss starts in the kitchen, continues in the gym (with weights or interval training), is massively complemented by Pilates and graduates with a happy symbiosis of all of the above.

  1. PILATES IS INSIDE OUT

If we focus first on the outside, we are likely to neglect the inside. By inside I mean back and joint health, muscle imbalances, pelvic floor health, hips, shoulders, breathing, stress and TENSION. In fact years of experience have shown me that the Pilates participant who comes from the physiotherapist, where pain has motivated them is generally much better at Pilates (if there is such a thing) and progresses quicker than the gym bunny who wants to get thin.

  1. PILATES ISN’T ABOUT BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

You know what I mean. All those stock photos of models looking serene and just occasionally doing a bit of Pilates in a well lit studio without a squidge of fat or under-eye baggage in sight. Now I’m not anti-pretty (I should say I consider all my participants beautiful) but I am anti putting anyone off exercise. In my classes we have fat rolls, we have ‘retro’ workout gear and the occasional hairy leg (sometimes a little parp too) but we are all doing it. Striving to look after our bodies, not just to show them off.

Of course, I’m not ignorant to the fact that how we look is a driving factor behind exercise but let’s not lose sight of wellbeing and let’s not lose sight of Pilates.

Focusing on toned tummies to the detriment of our backs will not serve us long term. And when your motivation is looks over health you are far less likely to stick to exercise.

If you DO want to change the way you look, then yes do Pilates but do HIIT training, eat clean, cut out alcohol and processed sugars, sleep more, unwind, train with weights and have fun.

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/04/sit-ups-the-fastest-way-to-a-flat-tummy-after-having-a-baby-i-lied/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/10/22/want-a-flat-tummy-my-top-5-dos-and-donts/

https://alittlefitter.com/2013/06/07/10-golden-rules-for-a-flat-holiday-ready-tummy/

Next up … Pilates is’t an ab workout.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.

TWITTER: @fitschoolessex

FACEBOOK: ccfitschool

WEBSITE: http://www.fit-school.co.uk

The cure for back pain

BACK pain is one of those nasty conditions which bites most of us at some point in our lives but for some it’s chronic, debilitating and just plain miserable. Is Pilates really the cure all that we hope for when we’re suffering?

Second to post natal rehab, back pain or back injury is the most common reason that newcomers find my classes and take action. As a very dear friend of mine always said, ‘pain is the best motivator for exercise’ and she had a good point.

BUT (and yes it’s a big but), Pilates does not cure backs, improving core strength does not make pain go away and Pilates is definitely not a replacement for physiotherapy.

Before you start Pilates following a back injury you’ll need a diagnosis and/or a sign off by your medical professional that you are fit to exercise.

Back pain requires a long term management strategy. I’d be lying if I told you Pilates could fix you, rather it can be fantastic as part of a long term pain management approach alongside other lifestyle changes. Dull hey? There’s no fad or tabloid worthy headline here. Back pain is not an injury you can fix like a broken leg when you were 12. Instead it’s a condition you need to accept and find ways to work around.

Do bear in mind however that most adults have some degree of disc bulging or wear and tear. We could all be exercising with a minor disc prolapse but never know it. Our backs are strong and designed to last a life time. 

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STAGE 1:

So you first visit your GP and get referred or you go straight to a physiotherapist. In a nutshell, physiotherapists are like musculo-skeletal doctors. They cure with physical treatments and exercise recommendations not pills. This might sound blindingly obvious but a physiotherapist can not cure your back like a course of antibiotics might cure a throat infection. So at stage 1 of back pain you already have exercises to do, at home, between sessions which will help the repair process. The more you do your exercises, the quicker you’ll be on your feet.

STAGE 2:

When you are beyond the acute (really painful) stage you might be referred on to a hospital based Pilates programme or you might be signed off with a recommendation for Pilates or similar. So at stage 2 there are still exercises to do. At home or at the gym. But you need to keep doing them.

STAGE 3:

You get advised to improve your core strength. You may have even skipped stages 1 and 2 and gone straight to here. This is where Pilates becomes an option. However, core strength is a bit of a fad that doesn’t really exist, I’m not sounding very positive today am I? Core strength conjures images of a super iron girdle which you can get so strong by doing Pilates that you’ll never feel back pain again. The problems with this theory are that a) this girdle doesn’t exist; and b) immobility is the enemy of back health. I’m not suggesting it’s time to launch yourself into a dynamic Pilates class but fixing (as in making more rigid) your painful joints will not serve you long term. Instead we can use Pilates and physiotherapy exercises (that you need to keep doing between sessions) to get your body to a place where you can move, rather than using it to make you even more stiff.

STAGE 4:

Keep doing your exercises … forever! Visit your occupational health team at work and get a work station assessment. Can’t fit Pilates in at home, get a group together and get a Pilates instructor in to you. Consider what else you could do to help your back. Is there another health concern you need to get sorted in order to get you more mobile? Could you swim during the week? How’s your bed, your shoes or your bra? These can all be massive contributors to back pain.

Fit School is planning a seminar on long term back pain management (we hope it will have a sexier title than that) so if you’d like to find out more visit our Facebook page or contact us via the contact form below.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

Get updates from the alittlefitter post natal newsletter: http://eepurl.com/YVmD9

Post natal Pilates. What’s all the fuss about?

Post natal Pilates – a six week course where we re-build your post baby body from the inside. We aim to get your body ready for mainstream exercise or a stronger Pilates class.

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You know you probably should be doing it but it seems like everything else about having a new baby seems more important than an exercise class.

After all, you’ve just been through a massive physical and emotional upheaval and you’re just about managing to shower and get out of the house. An exercise class, where you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, might just tip you over the edge.

Admittedly not everyone likes exercise, and exercising in a group environment, when you already feel a little self conscious about your body, might feel a little intimidating.

I’m a firm believer in the power of exercise to make you feel better, to prevent injury and to improve your health. So, I thought perhaps some post natal Pilates FAQs might allay some fears and make it all just a little more approachable.

What should I wear?

Anything you feel comfortable in.  Although snugly fitting clothes do make it easier for me and you to see what’s going on.

What will I need to bring?

Nothing. My classes are mat work based and all mats are provided. Perhaps a few favourite toys since you’re coming to a bring a baby class.

What will we be doing?

Mainly sitting/lying/kneeling on a mat. It’s all very slow and controlled. Put simply, Pilates will strengthen all the muscles in your torso. So tummy, back, shoulders, bottom. We’ll also be getting your joints moving and helping your body to feel better.

Why is it so important when I’ve had a baby?

No matter how the baby came out, your posture, abdominal wall, back and pelvic floor will have been affected by pregnancy and birth. Pilates is one of the best ways of getting your body back to it’s pre pregnancy state and of preventing injuries and health problems in the future.

Do I need to be flexible?

No. Most people start Pilates very stiff and inflexible. It takes time to develop flexibility and the worst thing you can do is get frustrated by the lack of it.

Do I need to be co-ordinated?

No. There are no grapevines, box steps or square dances in Pilates. And most of the time other participants are too focused on what they’re doing to spot if you’ve gone wrong.

Will I get sweaty?

You won’t be dripping but you can expect to glow a little.

Is it all just breathe breathe?

No. Pilates is mindful exercise, which requires you to concentrate on the quality of your movements but there’s a lot more to it than breathing and stretching. Expect to be challenged.

What about this pelvic floor stuff – isn’t it embarrassing to do it in front of other people?

Pelvic floor exercises are incorporated into the class, no one will know. If we do spend time specifically focusing on pelvic floor I ensure we aren’t all looking at each other.

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If you do want to give it a try I currently teach one post natal specific class and my Foundations class which is great for post natal mummies who’d rather exercise without baby or have perhaps left some time between birth and getting back to exercise:

Post Natal Pilates ‘bring a baby’ –  Epping Registry Office, Epping. In partnership with Brambles Children’s Centre. Tuesdays at 12pm.  Babies don’t participate – this is a class for mummies where babies are welcome (up to crawling). There is a 10 minute ‘baby break’ to ensure babies are happy and not overwhelmed by the sociable nature of this class.

Do get in touch via email at karenlisalaing@gmail.com. I don’t bite!

Or book online

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