Ease into exercise with this activity that boosts balance, posture, mood and more.
How far are you willing to move your body to get on the path to well-being? A mile? A few steps at a time? How about an inch or two for a few minutes? If your New Year’s resolution is to get more exercise, Pilates may be perfect for you.
Pilates is a series of conditioning exercises performed mainly on the floor. It’s especially helpful for people with Parkinson’s because it promotes strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance and posture at a much lower risk for injury than with other forms of exercise.
The simple routines require teeny movements—often just an inch at a time. It may not even seem like a workout at all. But do it right, and you’ll feel the strength building in your belly, back and thighs. Before long, you’ll stand up taller and have better balance.
Stressed out? Then you’ll be happy to know that Pilates melts away anxiety and boosts mood. In one study, people with mild to moderate PD who did mat Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks reported a better quality of life.
No Stamina? No Sweat!
A lot of people with Parkinson’s turn to Pilates because it’s a low-impact activity with big-impact results. These exercises can be adapted to anyone, even those with physical limitations. Because Pilates focuses on increasing core strength and improving flexibility and balance, it can be particularly helpful in countering the effects of PD.
It’s non-aerobic, so you won’t get your heartbeat racing and you won’t break a sweat. That makes it a great choice if you’re worried about fatigue or stamina since most of the workout is performed on the floor.
You can also use balls, springs or flex bands to perform super simple conditioning exercises at home or in a group setting. Just remember that when you choose a Pilates class, look for one with an instructor familiar with Parkinson’s disease.
Your Muscles on Repeat
Scientists believe Pilates helps boost brain-body signaling, which goes awry in PD. The simple, controlled exercises help you correct your spinal and pelvic alignment, while forcing you to concentrate on movements that protract and retract the muscles. This strengthens the way the brain communicates with your body, thus teaching you how to have better control over the way your body moves.
In other words, when you do an exercise over and over, your brain shouts to your muscles, “Hey, come help us!” More muscles start to join the fun, and eventually, you get stronger. This is called patterning.
Patterning is a normal body muscle reaction, but it can fade with the loss of dopamine, which occurs with Parkinson’s disease. If you feel sore a day or two after a Pilates session, then you’ll know you worked a muscle that hadn’t been worked before. Stick with Pilates and those muscles will become stronger and more flexible over time.
Take a Breath
One last thing, when doing Pilates, remember to breathe! Breathing is a key part of a Pilates routine because it helps you execute movements with maximum power and efficiency, while relaxing the body and reducing stress.
PD, or the medicines you take for it, can sometimes lead to shallow breathing. You want to wake up your breathing muscles. Focus on your breath with each movement. Feel your ribcage grow wide as you inhale and smaller as you exhale. For a bigger challenge, try singing a song while performing Pilates.
If you’re considering taking Pilates (or already doing so), good for you! Exercise is essential for keeping Parkinson’s symptoms in check. It might take a while to notice changes in your symptoms, especially with balance. But science shows that working out really helps people with PD thrive. So, don’t give up on your goals!
Ready to get started? Learn more about the benefits of Pilates for Parkinson’s disease and find fun workout ideas and classes in your area at briangrant.org/exercises.
By Kelli Miller