Working Pilates into your routine can provide therapy for injuries and help you get the toned figure you want.

According to the latest Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, 150 minutes of exercise over the span of seven days is sufficient for the average adult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But many Canadians aren’t clocking in enough sweat sessions because of various injuries and ailments. Don’t let pain hold you back. Working Pilates into your routine can provide therapy for injuries and help you get the toned figure you’ve been dreaming of (think Jennifer Aniston) at the same time.

Margot McKinnon, founder and educational director of Body Harmonics, a Pilates studio in Toronto (bodyharmonics.com), believes that one of the top reasons people of all ages tend to avoid exercise is due to a fear of feeling physically uncomfortable. They might not want to induce sore muscles from the workout itself, or they could be concerned about exacerbating pain from an existing trouble spot. "The key is to work with instructors who truly understand how to change patterns in the body so nagging injuries go away," says McKinnon. "The focus is on building longer, leaner muscles and joints that move really well with a lot of support."

Pilates Perk No. 1: Pain relief

If even the most routine movements, like leaning over the tub or carrying groceries up a flight of stairs, can put your back out, Pilates may be your answer. In fact, research has supported what avid Pilates practitioners have long touted: Pilates can help prevent and alleviate lower back pain. The medical proof began with one small study published in the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy. It found that people who practiced Pilates for four weeks experienced more relief from their symptoms than those who underwent typical treatment for low–back pain. In light of the growing popularity of Pilates for therapeutic purposes, physiotherapist researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston ran a study in 2006 to test out the effectiveness of Pilates versus traditional medical care in the condition of 39 adults, aged 20 to 55 years, all with chronic lower back pain. After three and six months, the Pilates participants had significantly lower levels of functional disability and pain intensity than those who didn’t use Pilates as their form of rehabilitation. Even more impressive, the Pilates group had maintained their limber improvements one year later, even without doing more Pilates.

Pilates Perk No. 2: A Black Swan body

Joseph Pilates opened his first Pilates studio in 1926 on 8th Avenue, in the same building as the New York City Ballet, where he helped injured dancers bounce back from sprains and tight muscles. With more than 500 exercises, each move is designed to integrate the upper and lower body with your abdominal trunk (in Pilates–speak, it’s called the powerhouse) to facilitate fluid movement of the spine, hips, shoulders, and joints. "You will feel your muscles getting stronger and more flexible at the same time because you are moving in all directions and working in different positions all the time," says McKinnon. The use of precision with every movement helps create not only agility but also an acute awareness of your body’s strengths and weaknesses. This sense of awareness allows you to build strength in long, lean muscles that are not confined to one area. When your muscles are moving in unison and with length, all of your body’s movements will be easier to perform, resulting in a body that is both strong and graceful.

Pilates Perk No. 3: Less stress

One of the first things you’ll learn in a Pilates class is lateral breathing: Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, as if you were blowing out a candle. It’s thought that breathing in this way helps you maintain proper form, and also allows you to contract the muscles you need to perform a move while releasing those that don’t need to be used. "When you move well, you breathe well. A whole host of systems in the body are positively impacted when you breathe properly. And, poor breathing is a contributing factor in so many disorders, like anxiety and depression," says McKinnon. Another stress–busting benefit of Pilates is its focus on the quality of movement rather than the number of repetitions, which can leave you feeling refreshed, not exhausted, after a session.

The benefits of Pilates are many, and because it’s a low–impact form of exercise that offers the bonus of therapeutic pain relief, Pilates is suitable for everyone. "You can expect to feel invigorated after just one class," says McKinnon. To quote Joseph Pilates himself, the method "develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit." Sounds perfect!