Pilates has been around for nearly 100 years, but it seems to have picked up popularity recently, showing up online and on Instagram constantly. Pilates is a form of exercise done on a mat or a special machine called a reformer that uses low-impact movements to increase flexibility, tone muscles, and build strength. It was originally developed by Joseph Pilates as a form of recovery exercise for dancers. Even if you’re not a professional dancer, pilates can be beneficial to any person. It essentially aligns your body in postures that help counteract all of the repetitive movements we find ourselves in every day through walking, sitting, and hunching over our phones. 

Different types of pilates

Pilates is so effective mostly because it is a low-impact exercise, meaning a class can be tailored to be accessible for a lot of different ages and fitness levels. If you are practicing mat-based pilates, the movements are a little harder because you are using the weight of only your body and a few props like exercise bands or hand weights. If you are practicing on a reformer, which is essentially a small machine with springs that help align your movements, you can practice at an even lower impact with the support of the machine. With the guidance of a trained instructor, you are led through movements on the mat or machine that target different muscle groups at a time, toning the muscle while focusing on breathing. 

Pilates also largely targets the core and the low back. The core is attached to all of our other muscle groups, and our low back can’t be strong if our core isn’t strong, and vice versa. Pilates also helps to relax the muscles as they are being strengthened, which can help improve overall mobility and posture. A win-win!

Doing pilates with an instructor

If you are interested in mat-based pilates, you can practice at home with videos online, however, I would recommend starting with an instructor in a studio so they can make sure you don’t hurt or overexert yourself. Once you get the hang of the alignment of the movements, then practicing with a virtual instructor could work well. If you are practicing reformer pilates, you certainly would have to visit a studio, as the machines would be there. Your instructor will guide you through your workout, using the reformer machine in different ways to create a low-impact workout. Because reformer pilates specifically is so low impact, a lot of people can do this exercise and feel the benefits. You don’t need to be super strong or physically fit to start. The reformer machine helps guide your movements. 

If you’re interested, look up your local pilates studio and give them a call. Some yoga studios also offer pilates as well, which would be a great complimentary exercise. Pilates helps counteract all of the hunching and crunching we do in our day-to-day lives. It helps elongate the body, and improve your posture, all while helping build strength through low-impact movements. It really is as good for you as everyone says. Check it out!

Every winter many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or seasonal depression. It’s fairly common for people to experience low mood or depressive symptoms for the winter months. Decreased sunlight, fewer opportunities to be active outside and an overall desire to stay cozy and inside can contribute to this. Seasonal affective disorder can be treated with a SAD lamp, among other things. This is a lamp that provides light therapy, similar to the positive effects of sunlight which can improve mood a bit. Besides a SAD lamp, maintaining an active lifestyle and taking a vitamin D supplement can help as well.

Staying active in the winter

We all know it’s important to stay active all year round, but it’s especially important to keep this up during the winter months. During the winter we naturally want to make like animals and hibernate. It’s cold, the sun doesn’t shine, and we want to stay cozied up inside. Although allowing your body to rest is important, too much hibernation can lead to seasonal affective disorder, fatigue, trouble sleeping and low energy in general. 

During the colder months, your heart rate generally doesn’t get as high as it does during exercise in the warmer months. Because of this, you generally sweat less and use less energy, increasing your endurance. You can also get creative with how to stay active. You don’t have to exercise outside if it’s too cold, and if you don’t have a gym membership you can exercise at home. Any sort of physical activity in the winter is good for us. Look up workout videos online and do them in your living room. Stretch. Do yoga. Walk around the mall. In general, 30 minutes of mild activity per day is recommended, but even just a ten-minute burst of activity will serve you well in the colder months.

Dressing for cold weather

If you are working out outside, be sure to dress in layers so you can allow your body to cool and sweat as you work out. Also, keep your head covered with a hat or earmuffs. We lose most of our body heat through our heads. Regular exercise will help improve your mood, give you more energy, and help you sleep better.

Getting regular vitamin D

Additionally, it’s important to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D in the winter. About 40% of people are vitamin D deficient year-round, and that number increases in the winter. The main way we get vitamin D is from the sun, and if the sun isn’t shining or it’s too cold to go outside, obviously we can be lacking. Taking a vitamin D supplement can help maintain healthy amounts of vitamin D in your diet. Speak with your doctor first to make sure you’re taking the correct amount. You can also increase your vitamin D with a handy dandy SAD lamp. And finally, eating foods rich in vitamin D such as pork, mushrooms and fish can help increase your levels as well. 

The winter can be a tough time for a lot of people. Seasonal affective disorder rears its ugly head, we feel cold and tired and we’re missing out on some important vitamins. Getting regular exercise, using a SAD lamp and taking vitamin D supplements can all help improve your mood and overall physical health in the winter months. 

From the beginning of time, people with uteruses have experienced menopause. Menopause occurs when a person’s estrogen and progesterone levels decrease and their period permanently stops. This decrease in hormone levels typically starts between the ages of 45 and 55 in people with uteruses, but it can sometimes start earlier or later. Once you have gone without a period for a whole year, you are officially menopausal. Congrats! If you want to start preventing symptoms now, you may be able to thanks to the connection between exercise and menopause. 

What to expect in menopause

The time leading up to menopause where you experience symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and decreased muscle mass is called perimenopause. This begins during the ages of 45-55 (sometimes sooner, as I mentioned), and symptoms from this period can last for up to 14 years after menopause is done. That seems unfair to me!! During this time, your baby-making hormones are decreasing, and your body is no longer able to make a baby. That’s why it causes someone’s period to stop. Similar to puberty when all of your sex hormones are gearing up, menopause can come with a lot of symptoms. In addition to hot flashes and mood swings which we are typically aware of, menopause can also cause a decrease in bone density and a decrease in muscle mass. 

Estrogen levels are linked to healthy bones and muscles in women and people with uteruses, so when these levels decrease, bone mass and muscles decrease as well. Many studies have shown that people who practice some form of exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, experience some milder symptoms related to this decrease during menopause. 

How exercise can help symptoms

Lifting weights and doing strength training helps increase bone density. It’s recommended that women in the early 40s start exercising intentionally to lessen the symptoms of menopause even before they begin. If you lift weights, even light ones, and build up that bone density and muscle mass for years before your menopausal symptoms even begin, your body will be in an even healthier state to make up for some of those losses once those hormones start to fluctuate. 

Cardio exercise is also recommended for menopausal women. Dancing, going for walks, light jogging, and yoga are all great for relieving stress and mood swings that accompany changing hormones, but they also ensure the body is fit and healthy, creating as pleasant of a menopausal experience as possible.

Start to exercise and menopause may be milder

If you begin weight training now, when perimenopause beings, hopefully, some of the physical changes in the body will be less noticeable or less painful. Although a great stress reliever, unfortunately, weight training won’t stop hot flashes from happening. Some women will treat this with hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. During this treatment, patients take either estrogen, progesterone, or both to help alleviate menopause symptoms. By adding in some hormones through treatment, the decline in these hormones in the body will hopefully be milder. 

Although I am decades away from experiencing menopause myself, it’s something I’ve become increasingly fascinated with. Despite learning about my period and birth control very thoroughly, no one has ever talked to me about what to expect in menopause. It seems like a scary adventure no one is talking about. 

Resources such as The Menopause Manifesto by Dr. Jen Gunter talk in-depth about this time of life and ways to handle the changes and live a wonderful life after menopause. This, in addition to exercising and talking with your doctor can make menopause a less scary thing to navigate.