Let's talk about bones. We are very focused on the health of muscles and joints, but at least of equal importance are your bones. I'll start with a little anatomy. Your bones are made of compact and cancellous bone - a bit like a Crunchie bar. The compact bone (that's the chocolate) is really hard and strong, but also heavy and dense. Cancellous bone (the honeycomb) is light and porous, allowing blood vessels and marrow to be contained within it.
Our bones experience a lifelong cycle of old bone getting cleared away and new bone being built. All being well, our bones develop increasing strength - or bone density - throughout childhood and young adulthood, up until our early 30s: building exceeds clearing (see the image "healthy bone").
From middle-age onwards, bone density starts to decline. The more bone we lose, the more likely we are to experience fractures. Low bone density is known as osteopenia while very low bone density is known as osteoporosis (see the image "Osteoporosis"). Cancellous bone is the part that becomes vulnerable to fracture when bone density is lost. In some cases, osteoporosis fractures can occur without any obvious trauma, perhaps from an everyday activity such as hanging out washing. Falls also commonly cause fractures in later life. Although both men and women experience bone loss, women on average reach the threshold for fracture risk at an earlier age than men.
There are many risk factors, but the big two lifestyle factors that you can influence are exercise and diet (not smoking goes without saying!).
Exercise is your friend when it comes to strong bones: particularly weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening, and impact exercise. The tuck jumps and star jumps that we do in STRONG Nation are considered high-impact, but lower impact exercises such as small jumps, vigorous walking, light jogging, and strength training have also been shown to be helpful. Whether mat-based Pilates is sufficient to increase bone density is uncertain, although a recent systematic review found that Pilates and Yoga appear to maintain bone density.
In terms of diet, calcium and vitamin D play particularly important roles. It's worth taking a look at the NHS "food for healthy bones" website for more detailed guidance.
Many people with osteoporosis become fearful of exercise and physical activity. This is unfortunately counterproductive, as bone needs regular stimulation to help keep its strength. All adults, including people with osteoporosis, should follow the UK Chief Medical Officer physical activity guidelines, which can be summarised as:
There are medicines available to help rebuild bone density. You would need to consult your GP for advice on these.
I was not a sporty young person. PE was my least favourite subject at school and I was always the last to be picked for teams. It's not that I hated moving; being bottom of the class simply made me feel inadequate and insecure. Nevertheless, I came of age in the 1990s, and as anyone who grew up in that heroin-chic era will recall, the worst crime a teenage girl could commit was to gain weight. So I took myself off to an aerobics class. Hiding at the back, I seemed always to go left when I should have gone right and was consistently a move behind, but some of it was achievable: I could jump on the spot just as well as anybody else. The 90s tunes and the energy of the teacher carried me through to the end of the class. I went back, again and again, and after a few weeks, I was hooked. I started to move in the right way at the right time. I was becoming coordinated. Finally, I had found an activity that I could do just as well as the next person and where there was no shame in making mistakes. Instead, the ever-bubbly instructor was happy that I was merely there every week, working out. She looked like she was having so much fun!
With the passing years, I grew in confidence and tried out other things that I could learn at my own pace - to greater and lesser degrees of accomplishment - salsa dancing, skiing, rollerblading, squash and Savate kickboxing for example. In between my forays into sports, I kept returning to group exercise. I started to picture myself in the place of that smiling instructor at the front. I had to give it a try, so I enrolled into an Exercise to Music course at the YMCA.
This week marks the tenth anniversary of when I qualified as a fitness instructor. My first classes were covering an aerobics class on a volunteer basis for computer scientists at the Bill Gates Building. Shortly after, I started setting up my own classes. I'll let you into a secret - being the one at the front is just as much fun as I'd thought it would be! A couple of years after qualifying, I knew that this was something that I wanted to keep doing long term, so I trained in Pilates matwork as something I could teach even if I could no longer do aerobics. I had been teaching as a hobby alongside my day job, but it became clear that my vocation was in teaching fitness and in 2015 I left my job to focus on it full-time.
It soon became clear to me that there was a lot more to Pilates than I had learned on my matwork course. I retrained with Body Control Pilates (BCP), a dedicated Pilates school, rather than a generic provider of fitness qualifications. Being a member of BCP opened up a new perspective on Pilates and the magic of the method, as well as finding a community in what can be a curiously isolating profession.
So far, this post has been a self-indulgent reverie. However, none of this could have happened without you, the people who come along to my classes. I'm so grateful that many of you have been coming to me for several years - some of you all ten! One of the reasons I enjoy teaching community classes is that I thrive on that continuity that allows you to progress and succeed in your goals. I hope that my history informs the way that I teach; I always try my best to be inclusive and encouraging. Thank you for trusting me with your fitness journey and long may it continue!
Group fitness is awesome - you can't beat it for value for money and a sense of community. But have you considered the benefits of private lessons?
Individual lessons are a chance for you to work on a personal programme tailored to your needs and goals. These sessions are great for a variety of reasons, such as to:
As well as offering individual lessons in Pilates, I also offer STRONG Nation personal coaching - individual sessions of HIIT training with simplified routines to allow more attention paid to technique and to push your limits while being realistic about your own capabilities. These can be taken individually or in pairs.
All individual sessions cost £55* and are booked on request. I normally reserve Wednesday afternoons for these sessions; however during school holidays I am available more often, so please contact me to request a time.
*Prices correct as of 2 August 2021.
During my Pilates classes this term I've been focusing on the principle of opposition. Pilates teaches us to create strength in our body firstly by opposing gravity. Standing tall is an example of this. There's a reason that I'm always saying, "Reach the crown of your head to the ceiling!". Pilates elder, Lolita San Miguel spoke of a gold string attached to a helium balloon above your head. Using this elegant imagery, she said:
"You are not crunching down in the torso. You are
resisting gravity, which is what we are trying to do. We are trying to resist the downward pull of gravity. Axial elongation; lifting through this string."
-Lolita San Miguel.
Beyond finding strength by lifting up against gravity, we can also become stronger through opposing movements within our own bodies. This means that we are building strength by lengthening through the body at the same time as we are avoiding compression.
Let's focus on spine stretch forward. We start sitting tall - lengthening the head away from the floor. At this point we are opposing gravity. Then we begin to round the spine forward from the head downwards. However, we don't allow the middle and lower spine to simply follow the head. Instead, we pull the abdominals back in opposition as we reach the spine and arms forward (illustrated by the arrows below). Now we are opposing the forward reach of the upper back, arms and head. This requires much more effort and mindfulness compared to a simple forward fold where we submit to gravity and (assuming that we have sufficient flexibility) rest into the stretch. The result is a more even stretch through the back and the use of opposing muscles to improve flexibility with control.
Another example would be the spine curl. As the pelvis rotates posteriorly, it invites the ribcage to rotate anteriorly. Instead, by rotating the ribcage also posteriorly, the spine lengthens (straightens) and the movement becomes even more active! Even though we aren't working against gravity to reach the crown of the head, it is lengthening away in the opposite direction to the feet and hands.
There is opposition in every Pilates exercise and bringing attention to it adds an extra dimension of effectiveness and mindfulness to the whole system. Indeed, without some conscious opposition, you may find the foundational exercises to be ineffective and the intermediate/advanced exercises to be impossible. Working with opposition will give you the strength and control to bridge the gap. So next time you do Pilates, I'd like you to think to yourself, "As I move here, what is opposing the movement?" Feel how it changes the sensations within your body and have fun with it!
In November 2020, we ran a four-week STRONG Nation bootcamp with all proceeds in aid of the Samaritans Emergency Appeal. The Samaritans say, "Before Coronavirus hit, 20,000 Samaritans volunteers were answering a call for help every six seconds.This could be someone you know, family or friends in urgent need but unable to talk to anyone in the middle of the night. It is more important than ever for Samaritans to be there 24/7, 365 days a year for those who need us.
Samaritans' helpline is feeling the pressure. They're likely to experience more people struggling to cope or in crisis and they may have less volunteers to help answer calls for help.
Their teams are working hard to ensure that we can still be here 24/7, 365 days a year for those who are in crisis.
Your donation to Samaritans Emergency Appeal will help them reach those who are struggling to cope. It will help Samaritans recruit more volunteers and work faster on different ways to be there. "
Thank you for coming along, and for your kind donations of £183!!
A few months ago I noticed a dragging sensation in my pelvis while out running. On the first occasion, I didn't take action, but when it happened again a week later I hot-footed it to a women's health physiotherapist to get it checked out.
"Loss of strength in the pelvic floor," she said, "is typical of women in the perimenopause."
I nodded as if this information was no surprise to me, while the news that THE CHANGE was upon me blared inside my head like a klaxon. Perimenopause is the stage of a woman's life, typically in her 40s or sometimes earlier, when declining oestrogen levels signal the transition towards menopause. The shortening of my menstrual cycle and the lengthening of each period had come on so gradually that it had barely registered. Disrupted sleep and anxiety are no surprise in 2020, and with the weather this summer it hasn't been until the last couple of weeks that it's become clear that the heat that sometimes wakes me overnight is coming from within me. In spite of my determination to be perennially in my prime à la Miss Jean Brodie, I have to accept that I may be reaching middle age.
So, what to do if you are perimenopausal or menopausal? All of the usual advice about healthy living applies even more during this stage of life. Declining oestrogen contributes to increased cholesterol, reduced bone density, reduced muscle mass and it affects the way your body responds to insulin. Therefore a healthy diet and exercise are crucial at creating resilience in your body to prepare for the changes to come. Exercise can also help to manage mood and brain performance, which also frequently suffer during the perimenopause and menopause. However, even with the best diet and exercise programme, it isn't always possible to coast through the menopause, so don't suffer in silence. Contact your doctor, particularly if you are experiencing unexpected, extreme or ongoing symptoms. The NHS offers more advice and I found this interview about the 34 (yes, 34!) symptoms of the menopause to be quite helpful. October is World Menopause Month, with the 18th being World Menopause Day, so look out for information in the press.
Lastly, if you are having any problems with stress incontinence, your first port of call should be your GP or a women's health physiotherapist rather than the Tena-lady aisle! While advertising campaigns referring to "Oops moments" have been great in destigmatising the problem, it is important to remember that loss of bladder control is common, but it is not a normal part of healthy ageing. If your pelvic floor isn't supporting your bladder, it won't be supporting your back properly either, so your whole body will thank you for taking care of it!
1. Log in to TeamUp
1a. If you have already registered for the class, the class will be displayed in your upcoming registrations. Click on the class name, which will take you to step 4.
1b. If you have not already registered for the class, visit the Schedule and click on the date of the class.
2. Select the class you plan to attend
3. Click on "Register for a single class" or, if you plan to attend weekly, click on the right hand button to reserve the class every week. You may be asked for payment options if you don't have a valid membership option.
4. You can now open the class in Zoom by clicking on the button, "Open video stream." Kindly note that the virtual classroom is only created 48 hours before the start of the class.
1. Log onto your TeamUp account.
2. Go to the dashboard.
This will display all of your upcoming reservations.
3. Select "Leave" by the class you no longer wish to attend.
4. Confirm that you want to unregister.
This will free up a credit for you to use in another class.
5. Click the hamburger button in the top right-hand corner.
This will open up the menu.
6. Visit the schedule.
7. Select the date of the class you wish to attend as a catch-up.
8. Select the class you wish to attend.
9. Register for the class.
10. You will see a confirmation page and that's all done!
You will also receive confirmations by email for both the class you have left and the class you have joined.
Sustainability is a key part of the Jane Mansley Fitness and Pilates ethos. Just as I believe that any exercise plan should be sustainable long-term, so should our lifestyle generally.
This year, I tried the Plastic Free July challenge to give up single-use plastics for a month. Why plastics? When China stopped accepting most plastics for recycling in 2018, countries such as the UK began to divert plastic waste to other countries which didn't have the infrastructure to cope with the recycling. Much ended up in landfill, and has found its way to the sea, or has simply been burned, polluting the local area with toxic fumes. According to Cambridge city council, our plastics are currently recycled, so it's worth separating your waste, but reducing plastic use generally is more sustainable as the market for recycled plastic is limited. Unlike glass and metal, plastics cannot be recycled indefinitely. Plastics are polymers (long chains of atoms) and the chains shorten during the recycling process, reducing their quality. Even with the best systems in place, a piece of plastic can only be recycled about 2-3 times before it can no longer be used.
My goals during Plastic Free July were to:
Having finished the challenge, it's been an eye-opener. I had thought that I was already pretty conscious of waste, but it transpires that I had a fair bit of room for improvement. Here are a few changes I will stick with:
Some ambitions were less successful:
This week we have a guest blog coming to you from Myra, who is sharing her experience of getting into running, culminating in finishing a Parkrun - hopefully the first of many! She writes:
I started running early last year. Most people have some sort of New Year's Resolutions. Mine were very vague, but included a feeling that it would be nice if I could jog for a mile. There have been a couple times in my life when I've tried to take up jogging/running as a sport, but my interest rapidly waned as I didn't have any real goals and I didn't particularly like running. Still, in January 2018 I thought: humans are supposed to be good at running, so I really ought to be able to run, even if for only just a mile. This remained a vague thought until March, when there was an email at work about a ladies lunchtime beginner running club starting up. The idea was that we would meet up for a relaxed pace run of about 2 miles. "What if I can't run for 2 miles?" I asked. "You can walk part of it if you need to, no worries!" was the reply. I was encouraged by it being for beginners as well as being for women. I felt that there wouldn't be any competition, and that it would be OK to be slow.
So I pulled out my dusty running shoes and joined the group. The first time it was difficult - I had to walk quite a bit of the way and my muscles really hurt for a few days afterwards. The next time I was able to jog some more and walk less, and my muscles hurt much less. The third time I was able to make it around (at a slow jogging pace) without walking, and my leg muscles barely felt anything a few hours after I got back. Now I'm a regular. I find that while I still don't actually enjoy the running/jogging itself a great deal, I like very much that I am able to do it, and the pleasure that this level of fitness gives me is enough to outweigh the discomfort I feel during the actual running. I find that I enjoy running by the river - especially looking at the birds (ducks, geese, swans, coots, moor hens, and the occasional cormorant and heron).
This year my goal was to do an official 5K run. I signed up to Parkrun but still didn't do it for several months. I added a few little loops to my runs around the science park and tried to go a bit further along the river. Although it's fine to do a Parkrun at a walking pace, I really did want to be able to jog the entire way. Finally, on Saturday I did it.
On the day it was great. Everyone was friendly and encouraging, from the little cluster of first-timers gathered for a briefing before the run, through all the marshalls along the route and at the finish, to the people with scanners after the finish line. I started at the back as I know I'm pretty slow, and that turned out to be definitely the right move. I did overtake a few people who dropped to a walk, and I was overtaken by many people who were faster than I am, but I didn't feel bad about being overtaken. They were running their own race, possibly trying for a personal best, but my goal was just to get around without walking, which I did. Mission accomplished! But even more importantly, I really enjoyed it, as the atmosphere was so good.
So what are my goals now? Train for a 10k, or the half marathon? Nah, I'm over 50 and have a dodgy knee. But having reached the ability to run a 5k without killing myself, I want to keep up this level of fitness. I'd like to try to do a Parkrun at least once a month, especially over the winter. If I can keep this up I'll be pleased with myself. Do I want to get faster? Nah, not really. I always have been a "steady as she goes" kind of person - I just don't like pushing myself too much. If I get faster, I guess that would be nice, but it isn't my goal. My goal is just to keep coming, and to watch the number of Parkruns done slowly climb up. And this fits in fine with the Parkrun ethic – it’s OK to be slow, you just need to get out there and do it.
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.