General Health and Wellbeing Guide

The following is aimed to be a very general but, in most cases, a realistic guide for improving overall health and wellbeing.

Drinking enough water
Aim to drink 8 glasses a day (approx. 4 pints/2 litres). Water helps the body to absorb nutrients from our food, and remove waste and toxins. It also increases our metabolic rate. Water makes up over 80% of your blood and over 70% of your muscles, so make sure you’re drinking enough.

Eat a plant based diet
With careful meal planning, a plant based diet can provide the body with all the nutrients it needs to be healthy, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Consider the following to avoid nutrient deficiencies –

Whilst it’s easy to get enough protein from plants, most plants don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids, unlike meat. It’s important, therefore, to eat a wide variety of plants to ensure you’re covered.

There are two types of iron, haem, which is found in animal products, and non-haem, which is mainly found in plant sources like lentils, beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach and dried fruit. Non-haem iron sources are poorly absorbed by the body so vegans may need a higher RNI (Recommended Nutrient Intake) than meat eaters to compensate for this. Phytates (cereals, oats, bran) and phenolic compounds (tea, coffee, most herbs) inhibit iron absorption, whereas vitamin C helps absorb it. Eat citrus fruits, dark leafy greens or bell peppers with an iron rich meal and avoid drinking tea and coffee a few hours before you eat.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 helps to keep the body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. Vegans need to eat foods fortified with B12 (marmite, nutritional yeast flakes) or take a B12 supplement to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency.

The RNI for calcium is 700mg a day. Plant based sources of calcium include fortified leafy green veg, almonds, sesame seeds, tahini, and dried fruit.

It’s also worth noting that not all plant based diets are healthy. They need to be made up of unprocessed real whole foods to provide the benefits. Think JERF (Just Eat Real Food!)

Aim to do 5 x 30 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This could include exercise classes, power walking or running, swimming, and even vigorous housework. Taking part in regular Pilates classes can have many benefits, including:
• Improved flexibility
• Increased muscle strength
• Greater awareness of posture
• Improved physical coordination and balance
• Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries
• Helps prevent musculoskeletal injuries
• Improved mental wellbeing

Get enough good quality sleep
The NHS advises that “most of us need around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.” As well as boosting our mood and immune system, getting the right amount of sleep can also reduce our risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Breathing in Pilates

You may have noticed that breathing is mentioned a lot in Pilates. In fact, it’s one of the six fundamental principles of Pilates, along with concentration, control, centring, precision and flow. Why is it so important though?

Breathing style
Lateral breathing, which is used in Pilates, refers to inhaling into the lower back and the sides of the ribcage. Unlike shallow breathing, lateral breathing reduces tension in the neck and shoulders due to it using fewer muscles in those areas. It also helps to stabilise and stretch the spine during exercise and by breathing into the sides (instead of the belly, like in diaphragmatic breathing) the abdominal muscles can remain engaged.

Practicing lateral breathing
You can practice lateral breathing by first placing your hands onto the side of your ribs. As you inhale through your nose and into your lower back and sides of the ribcage, you will feel your ribcage expand and your hands will move away from your body. Then, as you exhale through your mouth and air leaves the lungs, your hands will move back in.

Lateral breathing can also be very calming and is therefore great to use during relaxation. Remember to inhale and exhale fully and deeply for optimum benefits.

Breathing pattern
Newcomers to Pilates sometimes find that it takes them a couple of sessions to adjust to the breathing patterns adopted in Pilates. It’s common in Pilates (and other forms of exercise) to inhale to prepare for a movement then exhale on the outward movement. This is because the act of exhaling relaxes and mobilises the body, helping movements to flow freely.

Example exercise
Using the shoulder bridge as an example, this is how the breathing pattern may be adopted:

Lying with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, inhale deeply through the nose and into the sides and back on the ribcage. Then, as you exhale through the mouth, lift the lower back off the mat and into bridge position. Inhale to hold the position, then exhale to return the lower back down to the mat.