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.

 

We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane. How exercise helps the mind.

I like to lift weights. Heavy weights. It makes me feel great.

For me, going to the gym, lifting weights and finishing off with perhaps a ten minute swim or sauna and a shower (in complete peace) is like switching a re-set button in my brain.

I feel calm.

I like to run too. Running gives my heart and lungs a great workout, airs my legs and allows my thoughts to roam. Sometimes I run without music so I can just think but on sunny mornings like today, I’ll tune into some great running beats and just immerse myself in my little running world.

I like to practice Pilates. I might take ten minutes before a class to have complete, flowing, peaceful practice time. There’s a tranquility and peace I find in silent, solo practice that I don’t get from other types of exercise.

But – when it’s just me and the bar and the lift – that’s when I can totally zone out.

No distractions. No kids. No thoughts.

The biggest reason I exercise is to clear my head. Through exercise I can process thoughts or get creative. Sometimes I might need to run hard to get rid of pent up stress or anger. Sometimes I need to just chill. The way exercise makes me look is always secondary to how it makes me feel. And having spoken with so many women in the fitness industry and women who are exercisers (rather than non-exercisers) it always comes back to mental wellbeing.

I can’t speak for men on this one but I do know that for the majority of women, the exercise hook is feels not looks.

We aren’t vain we’re just trying to stay sane!

Every exercise form gives us an opportunity to zone out or re-set, to process thoughts or to meditate.

Here are a few ideas on how you could use exercise to zone out or work out.

  • Yoga can be both challenging exercising and challenging meditation. The postures in yoga were originally based on the meditation. This is why it’ s often recommended during addiction therapy or rehabilitation.
  • Pilates is more of a conscious workout. Joseph Pilates originally called his method, controlology. The control of muscles through the mind. We are very mindful of technique during Pilates exercises.
  • Swimming can feel like re-birth. Yes you can go hard and workout your circulatory system (swimming is a great challenge for the lungs) or you can enjoy the simple pleasure of weightlessness and water. It’s rhythmic and repetitive and no phones are allowed.
  • Running can feel hard or could let you go for a great chat with a friend. When running alone you can internalise by focusing on how your body feels or you can let your thoughts wander.
  • High energy classes like martial arts or boxing can literally allow you to fight off your stresses.

Of course there are always ways of exercising optimally but the most important thing with exercise is to find something you love and find balance.

Enjoy x

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

Pay As You Go Pilates

“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.” – Joseph Hubertus Pilates, in 1965, age 86.

Pilates isn’t a ‘drop in’ option

Well my classes aren’t anyway. I used to teach in gyms but always got frustrated that I couldn’t help my regulars progress as much as they could have done because of the restraints of newcomers popping in and out each week.

This isn’t a criticism on beginners wanting to get started (or on my lovely committed gym goer participants). Regular readers will know I love beginners and I’m all for just moving a bit more. That is indeed my fitness mantra. But Pilates is a system of exercise best served with regular practice and experience and it’s no surprise to me that the participants who re-book, reap the rewards of Pilates, rarely (if ever) get injured and who are my class superstars, are those who are there week after week and NEVER ask, ‘do you do pay as you go?’ [The answer, by the way, is no].

RollOver

And here’s why:

Consider gardening. You could dip your toe in, plant a few bulbs and hope for the best. Spring comes and a few bloom but you never really figure out why they’re a bit average and what happened to the 80% that have just bolted and failed to flower. Or perhaps you plant some herbs. Another good starting point. You get a bit of fresh rosemary but your mint goes to seed, the thyme dries out and caterpillars destroy what was left of your basil.

This is pay as you go gardening. There’s a little reward but when it goes pear shaped you wonder why you bothered.

If however you learn from your own mistakes and experience, ask advice and questions from those with more experience, immerse yourself in books or magazines and just get out there a bit more often to spot the garden critters and changing environment, your efforts will bear much fruit.

And so of course it is with Pilates, as with any structured exercise programme but particularly with Pilates (and I know of course I’m biased here), commitment and practice lead to progression, results, understanding, awareness and that all important flow. Suddenly an hour slips by in a couple of breaths; an advanced exercise you’d previously considered impossible feels achievable and really great; and your body feels – well just amazing!

It’s like your body can breathe and you sleep so deeply.

If you’ve experienced our Fit School ways, you know we’re about progression. Our classes are programmed to progress and build. There are tweaks and different ways of doing exercises. There may even be a change of instructor or pace but it’s all leading to the same end. A little progress from the week before.

I do of course understand that work commitments or childcare can make ‘drop in’ or ‘pay as you go’ the only realistic option and of course it’s better than none at all. But if your back is troubling you, you plan on running a marathon or you’re trying to get to grips with your post natal rehab, regular, committed practice is key to bearing that magic Pilates fruit.

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

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

Pilates Foundations

Pilates Foundations is a new course designed for those new to Pilates, returning after injury or illness or pregnancy. The classes follow a similar programme to the Monday Pilates classes and you can still expect to progress, learn and move your body – this class focuses more on technique and adaptations where necessary. 

Book Online

 

IMG_5162

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

Are you an encourager?

ABOUT 13 years ago I first learned to run. Before then I would try but would set off all keen and then have to stop and walk for a bit. It was very discouraging. Years of school inter-form running or cross country (AKA running around the school) had hammered into me that I was pretty useless at it (as for most sports) and my memories are of getting really cold, falling in muddy ditches and generally never getting clean or dry before I then had to go straight to band practice! I wanted to enjoy it but couldn’t get a rhythm. I’d get a stitch or couldn’t breathe. I loved dancing, aerobics and training in the gym but running – no. It was my nemesis. So when – with the help of a keen runner, Mike Hall (no relation) who was on my team at the PRS whilst we built them a new IT system (these were the days of Karen, the management consultant) – I completed my first ever 5k Corporate Chase Challenge back in 2001 it was a really big deal.

The team

(clockwise from far left) Amy, Nicola, Simona (Simona’s mum not in shot), Sally, Gemma, Hayley, me (Karen), Angustias

Roll on to 2014 and I somehow sit here with a snoozing six month old next to me and a three and a half year old at preschool. I run my own business and can remember little about coding in java or C (these are probably outdated now) but I do remember I always loved getting the team ‘on board’ and getting results. So when on Wednesday, we had our first little Fit School team running in the North Weald Race for Life it might not have seemed like a big deal to many but to every woman who had never run that distance before, or taken part in a ‘race’, or felt like they were a bit rubbish at sports, I knew how it felt. I also knew, that a now very dear friend, who lost her mum to cancer last summer, would be running 10k. Amy is a sunshiny, giving person and I wanted to be there for her too.

I’ve run in events since my first 5k but I’ve always felt pretty nervous due to the ‘pressure’ of doing a time. This event was different. I was going to get everyone round because that’s what I love doing. I could never have imagined just how incredible it was to see the perimeter of North Weald Airfield covered in little pink running and walking dots as runners, joggers, plodders and walkers just got out there and did something defiant and amazing.

photo 3

The team all made it round and all felt amazing afterwards. I got laughed at for running in the wrong direction at times but then I wasn’t going to leave anyone out there on the field!

It’s very easy to sit back and think, ‘It’s okay for her – she’s thin,’ or, ‘it’s okay for her, she has the time,’ or, ‘I can’t run because …’ but events like this are great for just getting everyone out, off their behinds, and sharing time, effort and hugs.

So perhaps you need a little encouragement to do some exercise or you’d like some guidance – or perhaps you’re feeling a bit low, or maybe a lot low. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you stupid or a nuisance. It makes you human. And there are always people like me who get a complete buzz out of being an encourager because I had enough of feeling like I was useless at sports when I was a teenager.

photo 1

Oh and for all my cross country efforts, I’ve since discovered that endurance events are in my genes – so it’s time for me to stop making excuses, learn how to run and just do it!

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

 

Pilates basics – three exercises to practise at home

When it comes to Pilates basics, for me the perfect trinity is always shoulder bridge, swimming and the one hundred.  These exercises help you to focus on your core and trunk stability as well as mobilising your spine and getting blood flow to the lower back.

If you can practise these between Pilates classes, you’ll find you can progress quicker each week.

1. Swimming

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkDIsTEP5lQ

2. Shoulder Bridge

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgA2M45dHS4&feature=relmfu

3. One Hundred

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCSDC5tAOEA&feature=relmfu

Here’s a link to another post I wrote which breaks down the One Hundred setup, just in case you’d rather have it written down. In this post I go into how to do the exercise without the fear of making any pelvic floor issues worse!

https://alittlefitter.com/2012/07/17/finding-your-core-without-pushing-through-your-floor/

Pilates. What’s all the fuss about? Why bother?

We do this move every week in class!

 

Is it like yoga? Will I break a sweat? Will it make me thin? Will it fix my back? Will it be able to make me touch my toes? Will it give me a bottom like Pippa Middleton? What if I don’t like it? What if I fart? What’s with all those machines? Will I need a pedicure? What shall I wear? Why bother?

Pilates. Popular with dancers, pregnant ladies and physiotherapists.  But for some, a complete step into the unknown. Many women arrive at a class with trepidation, fearful of beautiful people with long bendy legs. Fewer men arrive, motivated by pain or their physiotherapist or wife telling them to try it!

So what’s all the fuss about?

HISTORY

In the early part of the 20th Century, with a little help from his wife Clara, Hr. Joseph Pilates (he was German) developed the physical exercise system we now know as Pilates. Originally called ‘Contrology’, controlling the body through the mind, it became popularly known as the Pilates method.

Hr. Joseph Pilates

Our Joe had been brought up a bit of a hippy. His mum was a naturopath, so a bit ‘alternative’ and his dad was an award winning gymnast.

A sickly child – Joe suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever – he devoted his life to studying ways to get back to health. He lived in an era of ‘medical gymnastics’, or exercise as medicine. He studied gymnasts, yoga, Qigong and became a gymnast, diver and body builder. All big influences on his exercise system.

On moving to the UK in 1912 he became a professional boxer and taught self-defense for Scotland Yard.

As a german, the onset of WW1 led to his confinement in an internment camp. He used the time to learn and train his fellow inmates and to develop his system, apparently using the bed springs to create his own equipment.

After the war he worked in New York with dancers (including the notable Laban) and developed his system into the exercises we know today.

Fundamentally, Joseph Pilates believed the key hindrances to health were modern lifestyle, poor breathing technique and bad posture! And perhaps it’s these parallels with our lives today which have made it so popular.

SO WHAT IS PILATES?

Pilates is a system of exercises designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles. It’s focus is on the spine and the core muscles which support it. It is resistance training using either body weight alone in mat work classes, or small equipment like balls. As well as using your muscles, you’ll be stretching and moving around a bit and breathing deeply – so it can also be pretty relaxing.

Pilates can also be practised on various larger pieces of equipment like the Reformer (a system of pulleys and springs).

If that’s still a little confusing perhaps it would help to share a few of the questions I ask of all my classes and class plans – a little insight into my mind:

  • How is my class feeling today – do they want progression or do they need to chill out?
  • Have I got my participants’ joints and spines moving so they’ll feel better when they leave?
  • Have I worked my class all over – abdominals, backs, bottoms, shoulders, pelvic floor?
  • Has my class REALLY understood the concept of core abdominals, pelvic floor and shoulder stability today?
  • Has my class tried something new today?
  • Has my class really connected today in some way – through laughter, focus, or a furrowed, concentrated brow?
  • Have my participants stretched their bodies today – do they feel a little more supple?
  • Are my participants walking out with better posture than when they arrived?

There’s nothing snooty about Pilates but it does take time to practise and understand the key concepts, so it’s not the sort of class you can dip in and out of.

Of course, the best way of finding out what all the fuss is about is to try it for yourself. Go on, we won’t bite!

To my class participants past and present, I’d love to hear your comments on what Pilates is all about.

If you’d like to read more about our man Joe, here’s a great blog post from Pilates guru Joanne Cobbe http://www.jpilates.co.uk/lates-blog/2012/7/30/joseph-pilates-a-man-of-mystery.html