Turns out there is more to pilates and yoga than just looking long and lean. These exercise modalities might also lower your risk of a joint injury down the track.
If you’ve ever rolled your ankle – be it on the netball court, at the gym or just by missing a stair – you’ll know that a joint injury is no walk in the park – pun intended.
Yes, you might bounce back quickly from an injury in your 30s and 40s, but this will less likely be the case in later stages of life, something you may have seen in your parents or grandparents.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t want to be like that ”, there’s no better time to start working on your joints than now…but how?
Enter pilates and yoga. According to Sydney-based Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Pavitar Sunner, “They can help to increase and maintain joint flexibility, and the strength, endurance and coordination of the muscles that influence joint movement.
” Pilates and yoga can also help you improve your balance by increasing your proprioception - a feedback system controlled by the nervous system, proprioception is your body’s subconscious awareness of its position in space, which declines as you get older.
“Improving and maximising proprioception will help to better protect the joints”, says Dr Sunner. Good proprioception means you’re far less likely to fall and then twist a joint.
Pilates is all about strengthening your core; by engaging your ‘powerhouse’ muscles – which include the deep ab muscles you can’t see – you’ll be building a strong and stable foundation, a form which benefits any kind of exercise, not to mention day-to- day activities like carrying heavy grocery bags. You’re also more likely to ‘catch yourself’ from a fall if you know how to use your core.
Standing yoga poses require you to engage your core and build on lower-body muscle strength, so that you don’t topple over! Tree pose – where you stand on one leg, is a perfect example of this, and Tai chi can have the same effect.
In a recent French study, 706 independent elderly women with decreased balance and gait-competency were split randomly and equally into two groups: Group 1 underwent a two-year balance training program, while Group 2, the control group, did not. Compared to the control group, the intervention group had far fewer falls, and performed significantly better in their physicals.
Where to start
Dr Sunner advises not to go gung-ho. If your body isn’t used to daily yoga or pilates, your weaker joints or muscles are at risk of getting injured. It’s better to work towards reaching a goal gradually, upping the duration or resistance by 10 per cent each session…and mix things up!
Supplementing yoga with pilates and vice versa means you’ll gain strength and flexibility in muscles and joints that you wouldn’t otherwise.
And don’t start on your own. To avoid injury, and to make sure you’re actually doing your joints some good, schedule a few initial sessions with a pilates-trained physio, exercise physiologist, or a recommended PT. Although pricey, a one-on- one session is cheaper than the costs that come with an injury. It will also help ensure that once you hit the group classes, you’ll have a better understanding of your form, and will know how to move your body safely.
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