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Pilates good for growing older

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I'd seen the strange-looking Pilates machines years ago. Think I even had a complimentary sample session or two once upon a time. But recently I got to have a real session with a young woman who believes that Pilates is just what the doctor ordered for those of us past 50 who want to be fit but may have aches, pains, tightness or even prosthetic joints to deal with.

Zara, a slender young woman recently returned from a few years in Japan (where she says she lost a lot of weight - "just very small portions there"), feels Pilates is a superb tool for rehabilitating people who've been injured or had surgery that may have left them out of balance or debilitated, and those who are simply dealing with the vagaries of getting older.

I'd explained to her ahead of time that I'd had a hip replacement a few years back, and she picked out specific moves that would be sure to touch on that area. I was surprised to find that that leg reacted more intensely to the heel stretching moves she had me do on "the reformer," the special sliding apparatus that Pilates designed to help soldiers rehabilitate themselves after being wounded. In other words, I felt the stretch in the replaced-hip leg even when we worked on the other side.

"That means that leg is not yet in balance," Zara said. When I asked her why Pilates is good for us baby boomers, she said the work of Pilates is all about learning to truly feel your body in space, to understand your body in detail. Discovering where you're out of balance and working to even things out. The result is often a measurable increase in your sense of well-being.

My daughter Creed and her husband, both of whom have unrelated issues with their spines/necks, say that Pilates is the only thing that really helps them both. She said once a week helps, but twice a week sessions help a lot. And three times a week sessions make a huge difference, she said, including even being able to reduce pain medications. I asked her why they like Pilates so much.

"Because we can exercise lying down!" she laughed. "But seriously, it just makes us feel better. We like that it's so individualized. Even in our small classes the instructor knows our particular areas of weakness, and when she has the class do certain moves, she'll say, 'Creed don't do this.' I really appreciate that."

Another buddy, a fellow older boomer gym pal, said she does Pilates because it improves her posture, helps her feel stronger and sculpts her entire abdominal area. Hmmm. Sounds good to me!

Zara says her dream is to team up with a physical therapist and offer rehab services that go beyond what physical therapy normally does. It was a pleasure to have her work with me, one-on-one, gently urging me to do a little more with each move. Very motivational. Her instructions were so thorough that I was moved even to try a few of the moves the next day while doing other exercises. I remembered what she said about how each exercise benefits the body.

It's not cheap to get private sessions with a good Pilates instructor. At full price you might pay $80 to $100 a session. But most places have either small-group classes or special programs when you buy a package. I've tried Pilates on the mat (no machines), but it's really tough and often very fast-moving - not the same experience at all. Check out the website at my Lakeview Fitness Formula Club for more information. Or email the Pilates coordinator and ask about Zara.

It you're feeling out of sorts even though you're working out regularly, Pilates might be just the ticket to help you fine-tune your body. And if you're a couch potato, it could be a fabulous way to introduce yourself to your body - the “home” you’ve got to live in for the rest of your life!

Here’s more info about Pilates for seniors.

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