Pilates for fitness and breast cancer rehabilitation

Often my conversations with friends invariably touch on the aches in our backs, shoulders, necks and occasionally, joints.

We get these aches from sports, sitting, standing or sleeping with the wrong posture, working long hours on the computer or lifting or carrying heavy loads. At times these aches are so bad that they affect our daily lives.

Three years ago, I used to work out for at least an hour at the gym, three to five times a week. My usual routine included running on a treadmill for a minimum of 5km and up to 20km when I was in the mood, and weight-lifting.

I was then at the peak of my form — lean, well-toned, packed with muscles. Although small in size, I was told I had enviable stamina and strength. In spite of religiously warming up and stretching before and after workouts, I still suffered muscle pulls and sprains now and then. The pains were so bad at one stage that I had to stop working out altogether in order to recover.

Another problem cropped up after I had halted my exercise regime. I was accustomed to the high brought about by endorphins released during vigorous exercising. Missing that, I felt down and lethargic.

Wanting to overcome that situation, I sought the help of my former gym instructor, Melissa Wong who co-founded pilates studios with her husband, Steven, and is a certified trainer.

Wong made me realise that although I was fit and strong, I had weak core muscles and that was the cause of my aches. For instance, when carrying heavy loads, we overuse our back muscles instead of using of our core stomach muscles.

She introduced pilates to me and explained that this form of exercise enhances athletic performance, alleviates posture problems, relieves stress and increases balance and strength, all without strain on the joints.

The goal is to help practitioners like myself to achieve peak levels of fitness and build stronger and leaner muscles while developing a sense of well-being. There is no panting and puffing like running on a treadmill.

Since then, I have toned down my workout regime and began to appreciate the programme of rehabilitation she designed for me.

Since her studios are near my home and office, I have no excuse not to avail myself of training regularly.

Physiotherapist Ong Lip Qin assessed my problems and set me on a path to heal and then strengthen those areas. I was pleasantly surprised that he could detect the exact point of pain and its source.

After several sessions of treatment, coupled with repeating some prescribed exercise routines at home, all my pains vanished. Continually strengthening the muscles is the key to ensure freedom from injuries.

I have since moved on to Stott Pilates to strengthen my core muscles. It involves using special equipment.

Although the exercises look deceptively relaxing and very easy compared to weightlifting, which involves involuntary clenching of teeth and facial contortions, pilates actually worked on muscle groups that I didn’t even know existed.

So it is hardly surprising that a gentle form of exercise like pilates that offers health benefits is very suitable for rehabilitation, especially after breast cancer treatment.

It’s unfortunate that many Malaysian family has a member that is affected by it, but with new medical and technological advances, more women will survive breast cancer.

They will require supporting health and wellness programmes that will make a positive difference in their lives.

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