by Eveline Erni

As we pass through the various stages of our lives, it is important that we become more pro-active about our bodies. With age comes a host of issues that circle our feet like small yapping dogs — you can ignore them, but every so often one might bite. Posture starts to fall apart, muscles become weaker and shorter, balance is suspect, aches and pains are a regular part of the day.

While there are many approaches to exercise and remaining active, I want to share with you one of my favorite exercise programs. I’ve been a physical therapist for 27 years, and after all these years of watching various fads come and go, I have developed great respect for Joseph Pilates and the “Pilates” exercise program.

While I use Pilates in the rehabilitation process, I am especially impressed by how much it helps the average person tune-up his or her body. It is the ideal “wellness” vehicle. It lengthens and strengthens muscles (for daily activities), increases core strength (necessary for balance), and improves posture (very important from a biomechanical perspective, as well as your physical presentation to the world).

One major benefit is you start to look and feel younger — who can fault that? This is purely a physical phenomenon. As posture improves, many aches and pains start to diminish, you stand taller, and with more muscle strength and length you move like a younger person.

I will give you a quick example. Granted, it’s a male — perhaps a little odd for a blog on improving women’s lives — but since it’s my husband I’m hoping you’ll grant me a little leeway.

He has officially moved into that over-50 age group, and while he was physically very active until 40, with two children and work, the last 15 years have taken their toll. Aches and pains became more common, his waistline grew by a few inches (he requested that I not be more specific than that), muscle mass decreased, and a former six-pack of abdominal muscles was reduced to a rather large one-pack.

This year, after some prodding on my part and moderate enthusiasm on his, he began a lifestyle change. The first was a change in dinner habits; we now eat large salads at night. Then he began exercising daily by riding his bike to and from work. And in January 2006, he began taking a private Pilates class twice a week. For him, biking and Pilates has meant a significant reduction in the daily aches and a modest weight loss of 10 pounds or so. And that six-pack? Well, let’s just say we are still a few cans short of a party, but things are improving.

The change has been gradual. If you put a “before” and “after” picture next to each other, it would be moderately impressive. But if you asked him how he feels on a daily basis, his answer would be resoundingly positive. So here he is moving along the timeline toward the big 60 and he is on an upswing.

Ultimately, that is what you want as a woman moving forward in life. It’s about keeping your life pointed in a positive direction. With surprisingly little investment of time and energy, it is achievable.

As a physical therapist, I approach the goal of “moving forward in life” from a very body-centric perspective. I consider trying to achieve good body alignment and optimal muscle control as a worthy goal, and I personally get great satisfaction out of guiding female patients toward that goal and witnessing the positive impact it has on their lives.

Remember, it’s not just about exercise — it’s about taking control of your body, getting positive results and achieving greater personal independence.

Eveline Erni received her physical therapy degree from The University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. She completed the Laban/Bartenieff certificate program in movement analysis and has a master’s in movement sciences from Columbia University. She is also a certified Pilates instructor. Her practice, Pivotal Physical Therapy, is in Manhattan.

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