So you’ve survived Christmas, New Year & Easter; three big events where we usually consume more calories away than we burn off.
The days have grown longer and evenings lighter and almost time to start thinking about packing your winter clothes away (although we could be forgiven for thinking we are still in winter some days with the recent temperatures!) A few shopping trips to refresh your spring wardrobe brings fear as you realise that waistline really has expanded - no the shop hasn’t changed its sizing! Panic sets in as you realise how many more weeks you have left to shift those extra inches before that holiday you have been long awaiting for! It's easy to feel deflated after a few weeks spent working out at the gym, getting up early for those jogs or hitting the local swimming pool (to also get used to exposing ourselves and our half naked bodies again in public) to find that those inches around our waist have not shifted.....So what next?
Firstly a little education on fat. Stomach fat is made up of 2 layers. Visceral fat is stored within a persons abdominal cavity. It has a protective role on the internal major organs such as the pancreas, liver and intestines. It is also known as 'active fat' as research has shown that it plays a role in how our hormones function. Too much of this fat spells bad news. Not just for the waistline, but for your overall health; the more you store, the higher the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other nasties. A waistline measurement is a relatively good indicator to tell if you have too much. If you're a woman and your waist is 35 inches or more, it's likely that you are carrying too much visceral fat. Likewise if you're a man with a waist measurement of 40 inches or more. We all know that cardiovascular exercise helps to battle the bulge but it doesn't have to mean a costly gym membership or even getting all hot and sweaty to be working cardiovascularly. Brisk walking is a great way to burn fat. You could even make money at the same time - dog walking pays really well! Try parking the car further away from the office and use the brisk walk to keep your joints and muscles happily moving. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Choose to walk instead of drive to the local shop! Just get active whenever and wherever you can and keep up the 'fat attack'.
Fat type number two is called subcutaneous fat. This layer of fat sits directly under the skin. It feels and looks ‘flabby’ (think of that roll that sits over the jeans!) Women generally tend to store more subcutaneous fat than men due to childrearing, which is why men with excess abdominal fat have hard tight bellies (visceral). The good news is that it's not thought to be as harmless as visceral fat. Some research suggests that subcutaneous fat may even have a role in promoting health. The bad news is that it doesn't make us feel or look great. As already mentioned getting active more often is the key to stoking that fat burning fire! It is worth remembering that you can not directly lose fat from you tummy only. This is because the fat around our stomach is part of the rest of our body fat. We have to lose fat from all over our body with an all over body approach!
Another reason for a flabby tummy is due to a weak core. This is where Pilates is excellent for getting results as Pilates can spot-train a weak core and strengthen and tighten the pelvic floor, abdomen and back. Some clients refer to feeling like they have developed an 'internal corset' after a few weeks of Pilates training. This is because Pilates targets the muscles that lie closest to the spine. By strengthening these, in a correct anatomical alignment our postural habits also start to change. Our awareness of how we carry ourselves increases leading to improved functioning of our postural muscles as well as our self confidence and self-esteem.
Pilates also focuses on deep breathing which triggers the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) in the body, responsible for reducing stress. When we are stressed we are under regulation of our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which releases a hormone called Cortisol. A certain amount of this hormone is required to generate our flight or fight response. However in our daily lives, often packed with lots of external stressors, our SNS is often overstimulated leading to excess levels of Cortisol in our body. Cortisol causes the body to release higher levels of insulin which causes a drop in our blood sugar levels, in turn low sugar levels leaves us craving sugary and fatty foods, and so the cycle continues. Check out further research about the benefits of slowing the body and mind down and you will find a host of other good reasons to protect yourself from stress - reduce risk of heart disease, depression and mental illness. Pilates is excellent for beating the bulge, building a stronger mind as well as body.
So there is still time to get into shape for the summer. Pilates is not just for women - I regularly train men who tell me what a difference Pilates makes to them and how much they miss it when they don't practice. So be sure to check out the Pilates courses for beginners and the 2 excellent retreats that I'm running in Spain and Greece in September this year!