By Ray Infante, MA, LMT, Certification Manager - Pilates Method Alliance
February is heart health month, and for many that have experienced the pain attributable to heart disease directly or through social or familial associations, it is the month to share the realities of heart disease with as many people as possible. In February, the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. is inserted into the public sphere, just after the holidays. Despite the truth of the message, many fortunate enough to not have it impact their lives perceive the issue as one more serious factoid that is "out there," beyond their personal reality.
New year's resolutions are expressions of an individual's desire for change in their life, and in our culture, resolutions are encouraged during the holidays and more specifically as one approaches the 31st of December. Recovery on the 1st is a transitional process, a movement from the blurry festivities of the dawn of the year to a clear vision and the imperative to make good on resolutions. Gym memberships are purchased; diet books, stretch bands, juicers, and any other item potentially related to health and fitness become key searches on Amazon. Everyone seems aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle; the messaging into the public sphere has had success, and the fact that healthy lifestyles tend to lead towards a leaner body also helps. People want to look good; one could argue that looking good is a stronger motivator than the fact that heart disease can be avoided by adopting healthy patterns. Does it really matter what the motivator is?
February is also a month for resolution-indifference. Life is complicated and the workout at 6 becomes more and more difficult to attend as weeks pass; there are meetings; children's school functions; there are many tasks related to participating in our society, and, on or about February, these tasks get moved to the top, and fitness starts to become an inconvenience. Who has time to peel the veggies at 7 am?
If someone considering abandoning their healthy new year's resolution was made aware of the fact that a heart attack was in their future and that the attack could be prevented through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, it would seem likely that the individual would revive their resolution and push complicated life's tasks back down to the bottom of the list where they belong.
Fitness is key in a healthy lifestyle. This has become universally understood in the U.S., yet February comes around, and many exercise professionals struggle to keep the motivation of their clients going. Forget the vanity and focus on the health benefits. Exercise professionals cannot predict the future, but they have at their disposal a tool that reveals the potentiality of harm, as well as the potential for well-being. The tool is research.
Many professionals think of research as a laborious undertaking beyond their capacity, but in fact some articles are easy to read, comprehend, and most importantly, share with clients. One such article addresses the benefits of mat Pilates on agility, mobility, and cardiorespiratory fitness in elderly women. In less than 10 pages, a reader learns that Mat Pilates improved the agility and functional mobility in a group of inactive women above sixty years of age! 1 Mat Pilates is an example of an exercise that offers a spectrum of application from marginal exertion to a heavy-breathing workout. It does not require excessive force, heart rate monitors, or any special attire, yet it offers a vehicle for fitness that is accessible to everyone without a tremendous commitment that could be dismissed in February. In a similar article, Tsai conducted a large trial of 88 people ages 20-65y/o practicing mat Pilates over a 12 week period showing significantly improved cardiorespiratory function. Tsai's study clearly shows the benefits of mat Pilates on agility, mobility, and cardiorespiratory fitness2.
The value of fitness needs to be emphasized, explained, and brought home with a smidgen of fear, prior to the onset of resolution-indifference because the motivator does matter; the realities of heart disease are a more compelling reason to stick with health than the notions of a lean body. Exercise professionals must become knowledgeable of the research available, across the fitness landscape. There is research out there that supports the value of all fitness. If the threat of heart disease is repositioned from "out there" to a client's reality, indifference would become a harder choice to make.
It becomes an imperative for the exercise professional to familiarize themselves with as much information on the value of exercise as possible to help their clients keep their new year's resolutions. As professionals, they must put their heart into it because they could potentially save someone's life.