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Pilates for Thyroid Patients?
An Old Exercise Becomes New Again

by Mary Shomon

"I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They'd be happier."

- Joseph H. Pilates, in 1965, age 86
You probably hear alot of hype about Pilates -- that it's the latest celebrity workout method and such, and that alone may make you want to dismiss it. But don't! Pilates is actually an excellent workout that is perfect for helping build muscle, raise metabolism, relieve aching joints and muscles, and can be done even by people who don't have a high level of fitness, or energy.

In short, it's perfect for thyroid patients!

pilates.gif - 15955 BytesPilates (pronounced puh-LAH-teez) is a method of exercise that was developed in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph H. Pilates. The method is based on improving flexibility and strength for the total body, with a focus on strengthening what Pilates called the "powerhouse," -- the abdomen, lower back, and buttocks - that supports your body and enable easier movement.

Pilates helps you perfect your posture, prevent injury, increase flexibility, and even improve circulation -- which can be a help to a sluggish metabolism. Pilates exercises are usually performed very carefully and in a controlled way, with concentration and breathing, promoting a mind-body balance in addition to fitness benefits.

(Click here for a biography of Joseph Pilates.)

Early on, Pilates method training became popular with dancers, including famous Martha Graham and George Balanchine.

The Pilates Method is not just exercise, however. It is a series of controlled movements engaging your body and mind, performed either on a mat, or on specifically designed exercise apparatus. The basic Pilates exercise equipment is known as a Reformer, and there are numerous additional accessories that were designed to work specific areas.

When starting out in Pilates, it's best to do so with trained teachers, but some basic Pilates mat moves can be learned on your own.

In Pilates, more isn't better. You're not pushed to do rep after rep. Instead, Pilates encourages fewer, more precise movements, performed with proper control and good form. Part of the control comes from the awareness you have of your muscles and how to control them.

Why is Pilates so popular? Fitness expert Michelle Dozois, author of Pilates for Dummies, offers these five benefits:

1. Look slimmer, instantly. Pilates makes you contract your abdominals and lengthen your spine like a ballet dancer, so you immediately look slimmer and more graceful. You relieve pressure from the lower back, so you gain energy, too.

2. Do it anywhere. Mat exercises, such as those in Dozois' video, can be done in a space no larger than an exercise mat, without any equipment.

3. No sweat, no impact. Pilates is a no-impact form of exercise that throws the old adage, "No pain, no gain" out the window. It's gentle on the body's joints and muscles and requires a minimal amount of repetitions, so it's easy to learn and fun to do.

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4. Anyone can do it, no matter what your age or fitness level, or even given most health conditions. A "Pilates body" looks great on people of all ages, even folks in their seventies. Says Dozois: "Most get hooked on Pilates because it helps them look and feel better. I've also got clients who find it helps them recover from surgeries such as mastectomies. Pilates helps restore energy drained from chemotherapy. My clients also find it improves their balance and keeps their bodies moving freely."

5. Those in the know, know it works. Two of the most important names in dance, George Balanchine and Martha Graham, made it an integral part of their dancers' training.

Currently, Pilates is the fastest-growing class in health clubs, according to the International Dance and Exercise Association.

Pilates is particularly suited to people with chronic health conditions like thyroid disease and fibromyalgia, because it focuses on increasing lung capacity and circulation, using deep, healthy breathing. This alone helps increase energy. Strength and flexibility are also stressed, and building muscle strength slowly, using one's own body weight to start, is an excellent way to raise metabolism.

I mentioned back in October that I had started to do Pilates at the end of last summer. I'm now almost a year into my Pilates sessions with a trainer. I've been doing Pilates mat work -- not the Pilates machine work or classes...just the simple floor work, using my own body for resistance and weight bearing.

I have to admit, in 41 years of life as a non-athlete, this is the first time I've stuck to a particular exercise program regularly for this long in my life. It combines many of the things I love about yoga, with even more muscle building and control. I LOVE it. I spent years with shoulder and back pain, in particular, that awful stabbing neck and shoulder pain that is typical of fibromyalgia. And I also had quite a bit of lower back pain, and chest/rib pain (known as costochondritis). About 3 months after starting Pilates, my pain was gone...and it hasn't come back!

Luckily, I've found an affordable personal trainer who works with a friend and me on our Pilates. In addition, I purchased Mari Winsor's set of Pilates videos, which my trainer felt were the best tapes on the market. I love the 20-minute Winsor Pilates workout tape. Even on busy days, it's hard to find an excuse not to pop down on the floor and do 20 minutes, which flies by! And the more intense Winsor Pilates Accelerated Body Sculpting workout tape gives me something to aspire to, as I slowly get better at doing the exercises on it. I think I've found my exercise for life!

To Get Started Yourself With Pilates

If you wanted to start on your own, I'd highly recommend the Winsor Pilates tapes. They feature clear instructions, and most exercises can be done even by beginners.

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Winsor Pilates Videos (or DVDs) -- Get the "Basics" video, the "20 Minute Workout," Winsor Dozen portable exercise guide, Journal, and free, the 50-minute Accelerated Body Sculpting video.

Buy the Winsor Pilates VHS tapes or DVD for $39.90

Related Information

Thyroid Diet Success Guide
DietPower Software Program
Julliana, a thyroid patient, shares her Pilates story...

I have been practicing Pilates for about 3 yrs now and LOVE it. I use a Pilates machine in my home and the "magic circle" and "box and pole". I find that it changes the shape of my body and even though its not a cardio workout, I can lose weight with it easily and it allows me to eat more if I want without gaining. More important - I look forward to working out on my machine and miss it when I can't. It lengthens your body and changes your posture. After doing it for awhile - one day you'll suddenly notice how your stride has changed and the ease with which you can climb stairs and you'll also see how your posture is different while sitting. I NEVER believed that I would love exercising and look forward to it so much - Pilates has changed everything for me!

I love the sense of accomplishment that I get from mastering a new exercise - the first day you try it you're kind of allover the place and by the second or third day you can see the improvement and your ability to align and control your body so you can master the movement more easily. I love that there are hundreds of different exercises to learn and master in both the machine and matt work and that will keep me busy for quite some time. If you haven't tried the "magic circle" - it's amazing for toning and strengthening your neck, arms and using it to work on your abs - its about $30.

I have recently ordered Mari Winsor's Pilates. If you do mat work her videos are extremely easy to follow and its very easy to see how to do a particular movement. Its the best mat Pilates tapes I've ever seen. There are 3 tapes and move from beginning basic to more advanced. This might be a great way to supplement what you're doing with your trainer.

If you haven't tried the machines yet - I encourage you to go to a gym where you can take 1 class - you'll be hooked - the machine is very different than mat work and can only add to your enjoyment of the your current Pilates workout. You can also purchase a machine for home use for about $300 and they are very well made.

-- Julliana

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2003. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.