top of page
  • Writer's pictureMargreta

Is Pilates the missing key to managing your autoimmune disease?

What is the difference between Autoimmune disease and chronic inflammation?

Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues. There are many autoimmune diseases, and they can affect different parts of the body. Autoimmune diseases are becoming increasingly common, and chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to many of them.

Not all inflammation is bad. Acute inflammation, the inflammation associated with infections or injuries is an essential immune system response that helps boost the body's ability to protect against foreign cells.

Chronic inflammation is inflammation that lasts for a long time. It can be caused by many things, including autoimmune diseases, infections, and lifestyle factors like diet and excessive or extreme exercise. Chronic inflammation is a serious problem because it can lead to other health problems like autoimmune disease, heart disease, neurological disorders, stroke, and cancer.

Risk factors for chronic inflammation include lifestyle habits like drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, obesity, lack of exercise or excessive exercise, chronic stress, and environmental factors.

Autoimmune disease diagnoses are on the rise, and chronic inflammation is the root cause of most autoimmune diseases and other health conditions. While autoimmune diseases can't be cured, there are things you can do to reduce inflammation in your body and improve your quality of life. One such thing is Pilates.

What and who is Joseph Pilates?

Pilates is a form of exercise that has become very popular in recent years, and one of my favorites. It is different from other forms of exercise because it focuses on connecting the mind to the body. Pilates is named after its creator Joseph Pilates, who was born in 1883. Joe experienced a number of health conditions as a child including asthma, juvenile arthritis, rickets, and other chronic health conditions. In order to help strengthen Joe's muscles and body, his father enrolled him in many forms of exercise including martial arts, calisthenics, boxing, and gymnastics.

Eventually, he immigrated to England from Germany earning a living as a gymnast and boxer until he and many other German nationals were imprisoned during world war 1. Joseph Pilates developed his method while in an English internment camp to keep himself fit and healthy, where many of the other prisoners joined him in his daily routine, which became the basis for pilates mat. After the war, he immigrated to the US where he continued to develop pilates equipment and pilates exercises.

Joseph Pilates is considered the grandfather of physical therapy as many of his exercises are used in therapeutic exercise to this day. Pilates focuses on muscle conditioning through body awareness. Which makes it a great fitness program for all fitness levels including healthy adults, athletes, chronic pain, and chronic health conditions.

As a training method, Pilates can be helpful in managing autoimmune symptoms because it helps to reduce inflammation in the body. Pilates is a favorite tool of my mine when working with autoimmune disease because it is highly adaptable to the person than other forms of exercise. It can be adjusted from a gentle to intense form of exercise that is safe for people with autoimmune diseases or other physical health conditions.

Pilates exercises are a great way to reduce inflammation and help manage autoimmune conditions through movement and breath work. Pilates is an exercise method known for building strength, improving balance, core strengthening, and improving posture and flexibility. It can also help to ease muscle aches, joint pain, fatigue, and other common symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases. Mat Pilates uses primarily body weight exercises to increase core strength and muscles, while the various pieces of Pilates equipment develop muscle strength throughout the total body.

How does exercise affect people with autoimmune diseases?

Exercise can be tricky for people living with autoimmune diseases. Exercise creates a stress response in the body, not unlike a traumatic event. The body releases cortisol and other proinflammatory hormones to help fuel the muscles and body through the workout session and then restock the body's fuel reserves afterward. In a normal body, these pro-inflammatory hormones (cytokines and cortisol) return to normal levels within 24-48 hours. In an autoimmune body with chronic inflammation, the body doesn't clear these hormones. Leading to higher levels of inflammation and potentially triggering an autoimmune disease flare, or an exercise-induced autoimmune flare.

Symptoms of an exercise-induced autoimmune flare include muscle aches, joint pain, fever, fatigue, muscle weakness, and the same symptoms as your autoimmune disease. It's important to note if you experience post-exercise flares, it's not an indication that you should not workout. It's an indication that you need to change your exercise program. Working with a professional Certified Medical Exercise Specialist (CMES) can be a huge benefit. Not only do they have more advanced training and understanding of the body beyond a basic certified personal trainer, they often have a specialty focus in the medical exercise community.

How does pilates exercise differ from other forms of exercise?

The difference between Pilates and other forms of exercise is that the Pilates method focuses on building the mind body connection through controlled movements and breathing. This makes it an ideal form of exercise for those with autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation, chronic pain, older adults, and other chronic health conditions. Pilates exercises can be adjusted for your current fitness level or stage of autoimmune healing.

If you have an autoimmune disease, getting started with Pilates is easy. There are many different types of Pilates classes available, but be sure to find an instructor who's a certified Medical Exercise Specialist (CMES) and a certified Pilates instructor. I've worked with the autoimmune and chronic health population for 2 decades and have always incorporated aspects of Pilates and traditional forms of exercise into my client's routines to help them manage inflammation, fight weight gain, relieve symptoms, and improve overall health and wellbeing. It's one of the main reasons it's the base of my training philosophy and a huge component of my Transformational Autoimmune Coaching Program.

What can I expect from my first Pilates class?

The most important thing when starting Pilates is to listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain. Start slowly and increase the intensity and duration of your workouts over time as your body allows. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts to help flush out toxins and keep you hydrated.

If you are new to exercise or experiencing autoimmune symptoms, allow your body plenty of time to rest between pilates class sessions, at least 24-48 hours. Autoimmune diseases affect everybody differently, even within similar types of autoimmune diseases. Track how your body responds to exercise and note any changes to your symptoms.

If you are taking a pilates mat class, you will need a mat, a small towel, water, and socks. If you are taking a pilates reformer or other equipment class, socks with grippy bottoms are recommended and often required. For folks with long hair, there is an art to hair placement in pilates that will not affect your cervical spine alignment. A messy bun high on the head works best in my opinion.

Pilates helps you reduce inflammation without having to turn to prescription medications which can be addictive or over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs, which can cause digestive problems in some cases if taken regularly for long periods. Pilates is a safe and effective way to reduce chronic inflammation and autoimmune symptoms.

Pilates can be a great addition to your autoimmune disease management plan. It can help to reduce inflammation in the body, ease symptoms, and improve overall health and wellbeing. If you are interested in learning more about how you can manage your autoimmune disease through exercise and diet, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Together, we can develop a personalized plan to help you achieve your goals and improve your quality of life.

As always, before making any changes to your eating or exercising habits, it's important to talk to your doctor to ensure you are healthy enough to begin.


bottom of page