SOMETIMES the idea of trekking to the gym and huffing and puffing over machines can just seem exhausting.
But according to diet guru Dr Michael Mosley there is one simple form of exercise you can try that packs a surprising punch.
In a new episode of his podcast series Just One Thing – which examines small things you can do to improve your health in a big way – the TV doctor and the inventor of the Fast 800 diet extolled the virtues of Pilates.
Pioneered by Joseph Pilates, this form of working out is over 100 years old.
It involves small, controlled movements – a lot of them done while lying down – and places emphasis on breath.
You'll probably find yourself working small muscle groups you don't actually use very often and strengthening muscles deep in your core.
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While Pilates can be "quite gentle", it's also "surprisingly effective", according to Dr Mosley.
"It's good for your deep core muscles, lifts your mood and can give your brain a boost."
It's a low impact type of exercise – as opposed to something like HIIT that gets you breathing heavily – but it packs a quiet punch, the diet guru said.
As Dr Mosley puts it in his podcast: "If you try Pilates, you will probably be surprised to discover that the movements are often small and look deceptively easy.
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"But the idea is that if you really focus your mind on each tiny movement, you refine your ability to control these deep muscles."
Pilates gets your core muscles working, while also improving your posture and making you more flexible.
And anyone can do it, according to Dr Mosley.
You can use it to get super fit, but it's a gentle enough to be safe if you're pregnant or older and suffering from back pain or arthritis.
It's also easy to fit into your schedule and you don't necessarily need to go to a gym to take a class.
These are the three main benefits of it, according to Dr Mosley.
1. It can strengthen your core
Emerging research suggests the exercise can increase strength, balance and flexibility.
Pilates is also rehabilitative – so if you suffer from something like back discomfort, it might be worth a shot.
Studies show that Pilates is a good way to go if you want get abs of steel – done properly, it can strengthen the muscles in your core, as well those in your lower back, hips and stomach.
Dr Mosley cited a small Indian study conducted in 2020, which found that practising Pilates every other day for just a month increased participants' core strength by 30 per cent.
Another study looking at people who any dedicated one hour a week to Pilates found it was still enough to significantly build their core after 10 weeks.
So you don't even need to dedicate that much time to it weekly.
2. It boosts your performance in other sports
Not only does Pilates build muscle and strength in a short amount of time, it can also make you better at other forms of exercise.
Dr Mosley gave the example of a 2018 Brazilian study, which found that middle distance runners were able to run 10 per cent faster after doing a 10 week course of Pilates.
Other studies showed it can improve your ability in tennis – after all, Andy Murray himself uses it as part of his exercise program.
3. It can reduce anxiety
Following a Pilates class, you might notice you're told to use your breath to help your movement, sucking in air slowly through the nose and pushing it out deeply through the mouth.
This slow and even inhaling and exhaling can actually help reduce anxiety, according to Dr Mosley.
4. It can ease back pain
Pilates can really help with chronic back pain, with studies showing it's more effective than medication in easing discomfort.
It's also a good exercise to take up as you get older, especially as you the chance of balance issues and falls increase.
Though it can be helpful to have the direction of an instructor, there are plenty of informative and easy-to-follow videos online and on the NHS website – all you need at home is a yoga mat.
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Some excellent Pilates instructors whose classes are free on YouTube include Move With Nicole, Isa Welly and Flow with Mira.
If you're a beginner, why not start with 20 to 30 minute sessions twice a week.
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