Yoga and pilates have become very popular activities, but a lot of people question whether they are very effective forms of exercise. Here is an overview of what these activities are designed for and their potential benefits.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a form of exercise which involves breathing exercises and movements designed to increase strength and flexibility. Its aim is to boost both physical and mental wellbeing.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is similar to yoga but with particular emphasis on improving core strength in order to improve general fitness and wellbeing. As with yoga, many pilates exercises are done on a mat, but many also involve the use of special equipment designed to provide either resistance or support.
What Kind of Exercises are Yoga and Pilates?
Most forms of yoga and pilates do not count towards your recommended 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. They do not raise your heart rate in the same way as activities such as running, cycling and swimming, so they don’t burn as many calories.
Instead, they are classed as strength exercises, which are also important. Government guidelines say you should engage in strength exercises on two or more days a week. These exercises improve muscle strength, which is essential for all daily movement, building and maintaining strong bones, and regulating blood sugar and blood pressure.
Keep in mind that there are different types of yoga and pilates with varying intensity levels. Some will be more vigorous and calorie-burning, while others will focus more on respiration and body awareness. You should look for a yoga or pilates class which suits your personal needs and goals.
What Are The Health Benefits of Yoga?
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. It involves doing a series of movements, postures and breathing exercises. Some people believe you have to be young and flexible to do yoga but in fact, it’s a simple form of exercise that you can never be too old or unfit for. You can find yoga classes in a number of leisure centres and health clubs, and here are a few reasons why you should:
It Makes You More Flexible
Yoga poses safely stretch your muscles, releasing tension and stiffness, and increasing the range of motion in your joints. These poses also stretch the various soft tissues of your body, including ligaments, tendons and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. The result is improved flexibility and a sense of fluidity throughout your body.
It Makes You Stronger
Some styles of yoga are more vigorous than other, with some focusing particularly on improving muscle tone, but even the less vigorous forms help to improve your strength and endurance. Poses such as the downward dog and the upward dog build upper body strength, which is particularly helpful as you age. Standing poses build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps and abdominal muscles, while chair poses strengthen the lower back. Nearly all of the poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.
It Improves Your Balance
By strengthening your lower body, in particular your ankles and knees, yoga improves your balance. This makes it a particularly useful form of exercise for older individuals because it reduces your chances of falling.
It Improves Your Posture
Increased flexibility and strength both contribute to better posture. When you develop your core strength, you’re more likely to sit and stand tall, as well as having more body awareness. This heightened awareness makes you more conscious of any slouching or slumping you do, so you can adjust your posture.
It Improves Your Lung Capacity
Yoga involves deep, mindful breathing. The emphasis on deepening and lengthening your breath helps your lung capacity to improve.
It Helps You Relax
Yoga is a soothing activity which helps you to feel calm. The deep breathing exercises it involves are particularly relaxing, helping you to relieve stress and clear your mind. Yoga also causes stress-busting biochemical responses in the body, lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters, dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which creates a feeling of tranquillity. Too much stress can take a serious toll on your health and wellbeing, so it’s important to find ways to minimise it. If you often feel stressed, that’s all the more reason to try out yoga, which can really help you to manage those anxious feelings.
It Benefits Your Heart
Yoga slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, making it great for your heart. It can also help you lose weight, cutting down your risk of weight-related heart problems. Last year in the Netherlands, a review of 37 clinical trials found yoga to be linked to a lowering of various heart disease risk factors, including cholesterol as well as high blood pressure and weight.
Remember, most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards your recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. However, yoga does count as a strengthening exercise – something you should be doing in addition to those 150 minutes. It’s a suitable form of exercise for any age group and it’s easy to find classes so there’s no reason not to give it a try. Look out for teachers that have an accreditation from a yoga association such as the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY), the Independent Yoga Network, or the Yoga Alliance UK.
What Are the Health Benefits of Pilates?
Pilates was developed by a man called Joseph Pilates, who was influenced by a variety of western forms of exercise, including boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling and gymnastics. Less reliant on poses than yoga, Pilates involves a succession of movements, designed to develop core strength and improve general fitness.
Pilates is focused on helping with:
1) Whole body strength. Pilates focuses on developing strength in all the muscles of the body, which can help improve balance and general levels of fitness. It’s also more likely that you’ll notice your body slimming and toning up through Pilates than you will through yoga.
2) Back pain. As Pilates is all about developing strength in the core, it helps to strengthen muscles supporting the back, which can reduce pain in the area.
3) Flatten the tummy. If you’re self-conscious about your stomach area, Pilates is a highly recommended activity, as it focuses largely on the muscles in the abdominal region. This can also help to improve posture.
We know that yoga and pilates improve strength, balance and flexibility, but they may offer other health benefits too. Scientific trials have linked regular yoga practice to reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, stress, and aches and pains – including back pain. Similarly, studies have suggested that pilates can improve posture and joint mobility, as well as relieving stress and tension. However, more evidence is needed to support these findings.
If you’re wondering if yoga and pilates are “good” exercises for you, it’s important to consider what benefits you’re looking to gain. While they won’t have the same effects as aerobic activities, they are great forms of exercise for those looking to improve their strength, flexibility, balance and posture. Many people also find yoga and pilates very relaxing, so you may want to consider trying one of them if you’re looking for a way to de-stress.
For a good guide to yoga for beginners, you might like to follow this link to the Independent guide to how to start practicing yoga at home. It was written during the lockdown so has many useful ideas and online resources to help you.
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