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Walking and Pilates: the perfect partnership for your health

Walking is, and always has been, a hugely popular activity for health and wellness purposes, in addition to its obvious practical benefits! In lockdown, walking became such an integral part of our daily lives with many of us working from home, a walk at lunchtime or after work, perhaps catching up with a friend made the activity enjoyable and invaluable. Strava’s data showed a huge upturn in walking during lockdown – with 6.3 times more walkers in London and the South East compared to that time last year.

And it is still an activity that is an integral part of our health and wellness regime, and if like me, you have started to test yourself with longer and more challenging walks, or you just want to stay injury free to enable you to keep going, Pilates is great!

Pilates helps to improve balance, stability, flexibility, and posture, all of which are critical components of effective walking.

What makes walking such a great exercise?

Walking is so good for you. It’s free, it’s low impact, and easy to incorporate into your life so there is no wonder it is such a good option for a huge number of people. And its benefits are not to be sniffed at!

Promotes cardiovascular health.

Walking is an excellent form of low-impact aerobic exercise that helps to improve heart health by increasing circulation, reducing blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart disease.These benefits are evidenced with studies showing that walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and death by 32%.

Supports weight loss.

Walking can be a great way to support weight loss by burning calories and helping to maintain a healthy body weight; studies show that walking a mile (1.6 km) burns approximately 100 calories, depending on your sex and weight

Additionally, regular walking can help to reduce body fat and improve muscle tone as demonstrated in a small study which showed that women with obesity who walked for 50–70 minutes three times per week for 12 weeks, on average, reduced their waist circumference and their body fat. The fat directly under the skin (subcutaneous) and the hidden fat within your abdominal cavity (visceral) were both significantly reduced in the exercise group in comparison to the control group

Improves your mental health.

Walking has been shown to boost our mental health, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and improving mood and overall well-being. In a study in 2019 looking at the impact of a walk on the mental wellbeing of subjects found that a 50 minute walk had a significant, positive effect on their mental health, and if that walk was in green space, the improvement was even greater!

Boosts immune system.

Regular walking can help to boost the immune system by increasing blood flow and delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells that need it most. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.

Strengthens bones and muscles.

Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps to build and maintain strong bones and muscles, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and other age-related muscle and joint problems.

It has also been shown to reduce arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.

Why Pilates will improve your walking

So the benefits of walking are clear and if you are a walker, and want to prevent injury and support your body to continue reaping the rewards, Pilates is the ideal exercise to add to your fitness regime. And don’t just take my word for it!

It’s a core strengthener

Pilates strengthens our ‘centre’, or core muscles, including the abs, hips, and back. Strong core muscles help to stabilise the body, which is important when we come across uneven terrain and recovering from missteps. A strong core also helps you sustain a better alignment, and improves your posture as you walk. "Core strength allows the pelvis, hips, and lower back to work together more smoothly with less rocking and less excess energy expended”. Regularly practicing good form can help you avoid strain or injury as you log those miles. Training the core, or centre, significantly improves the functional mobility in the older population, as demonstrated in a study examining its effect, as well as balance.

Pilates increases your flexibility

Flexibility is important for walkers because it can help to prevent injury and improve overall performance and Pilates will help find improvements in this. Stiff muscles and tight joints can make walking difficult and increases the risk of injury. Flexibility can be improved by stretching and lengthening the muscles, with control, which is done in Pilates making it easier and more comfortable to walk. A 2010 study suggested that individuals can improve their muscular endurance and flexibility using relatively low-intensity Pilates exercises that do not require equipment or a high degree of skill and are easy to master and use within a personal fitness routine - perfect!

Provides you with variety - in body AND mind

Pilates will also add variety to your walking for health. Pilates offers a low-impact alternative that can help to keep your body and mind engaged and challenged. By incorporating Pilates into your exercise routine, you will be working different muscle groups and practicing movements you won’t be doing as you walk. This will not only keep you motivated, but also to prevent boredom.

It's accessible

Pilates can be done anywhere and is accessible to everyone so there is no need to pay out a huge amount of kit to practice, or sign up to a gym. Just as you might choose to go for a walk, you can choose to move in your home, following an online Zoom class or popping to a studio in your neighbourhood. It’s accessibility also means that you don’t need to dedicate hours of practice - doing small sessions 3-4 times a week will give huge dividends and you will feel the difference. A study in 2016 showed that just one hour a week for 10 weeks had a significant impact on skeletal muscle mass, flexibility, balance, core and abdominal muscle strength and body awareness on the subjects who did Pilates.

Pilates improves your balance

And finally, as indicated, Pilates is proven to improve balance, which is essential for safe and efficient walking, in addition to keeping us independent and mobile for longer. The controlled movements and focus on proper alignment in Pilates help to develop coordination and balance. In Raise Pilates mat classes, challenging our balance is practiced and prioritised for its functional benefits. And its effectiveness is proven in a study in 2014 which showed that Pilates mat exercise was a safe and effective method to improve the static and dynamic balance of elderly women. Win win!

Pilates and Walking: your perfect partnership

So what more convincing do you need to get your walking boots on, get outside and explore, and then complement this with regular Pilates? You will be having a positive impact on your future self, both physically and mentally.

Raise Pilates provides expert classes and one to one programs online and face to face. If you would like a consultation, get in touch and we can improve your walking.


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