The brain is deemed the most important part of the human body, located in the cranium and protected by the bones of the skull, it has what is called the “brain barrier” to protect it against the invasion of toxins. The brain is responsible for all thinking, feeling, memory and creativity. The brain communicates through the spinal cord and nerves. The nervous system controls the functioning of the organs of the body located in the Trunk of the body through the Central Nervous System ( CNS).
The CNS system, through its pathways of neurons and synapses, sends messages through electrical impulses to the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) which is the message bearer converting electrical energy to chemical energy and then back to electrical energy through its system of neurons. PNS has two and very distinctly different parts; the Autonomic Nervous System ( ANS) which controls the functioning of organs which are not within our conscious control, such as our heart and lungs and other organs and glands, and the Sensory Somatic System (SSS) which controls all voluntary movement in both skeletal systems, namely our neck, spine, chest, abdomen, hands, feet, arms and legs. It has its own nerve network consisting of cranial and spinal nerves which inform the brain about movement. Pilates is about movement and how the brain is co-opted into producing and controlling movement in the body.
What is not commonly known is that the brain has billions of cells, most of which are unused. The question intriguing researchers for years is how to regenerate brain cells after they have been destroyed by injury, disease or just by aging. Several recent experiments with elderly populations found that of all the forms of physical exercise, it was dancing which showed the most significant and measurable increase in the brain cells. This was attributed to new learning; in this case, learning new patterns of dance every two weeks. (Albert Einstein College 2003, Minot State University 2012, Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, November 2017) It is this increase in brain cells that delays the onset of dementia.
Now back to Pilates, and while there have not been clinical trials of the effects of Pilates and new brain cell generation, there is a legion of anecdotal evidence and supporting credible scientific hypotheses. This association of Pilates and brain activity has its roots in early Pilates writings and philosophy. These beneficial effects would include improved memory, better ability to focus and concentrate, as well as stress reduction and enhanced feelings of well being.
Just a cursory review of a few of the basic Pilates principles makes the association between Pilates and brain improvements, and the benefits to the aging population very easy to understand.
Memorization. The memorization of new exercises means the creation of new brain cells ( new white matter) and changes in the Hippocampus.
Concentration and Control. The activation of deeper muscles and learning how to control them requires a deeper activation of the nervous system and communication to the brain about the precise muscle movements required.
Stress Reduction and Calm. Mindful movement and breath control produce an effect that is very similar to meditation. It has a calming effect and can clear the mind. It can also help with the secretion of hormones which provide feelings of well being.
Improvements in the brain in just the three areas mentioned above can be life-altering to a senior population who live in fear that they are “ losing it” and apologize for “senior moments “. What if instead of losing it, they could sharpen the brain so that the effects of an aging brain are simply not discernible either to the individual themselves or those around them?
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