Work the core, reduce stress…

Posted on July 7, 2017 by Movement Health in ,
male and female doing Pilates sit up, could this help to reduce stress?

As someone who walks the line of multiple movement based disciplines I often find the evidence driven Exercise Physiology part of my professional make-up trying to unpack what is happening with some of the Pilates exercises. At times Pilates exercises may not seem all that functional and there can be limited levels of progressive overload.

So what’s going on then? To try and better understand I like to go to the source; Joe Pilates and if you read his books he alludes to ideas such as Whole body Health, Mind Body and refers to the breath as the ‘internal shower’. So it would seem he believed there was more to the exercises than muscles.

Enter recently an article I came across by Dum et al. (2016) which identified a previously unknown neural connection between the primary motor cortex of the brain and adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and secrete adrenaline in to the blood stream putting the body in a state of ‘fight or flight’. This is meant to be a temporary state and is a part of our primitive make-up designed to help get away from life threatening situations. In these modern stressful times people can be in a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight’ and the conventional understanding is that during this process the adrenal glands are communicating with ‘higher level’ parts of the brain involved with consciousness and cognition. By identifying a link between the part of the brain that controls muscle movement (primary motor cortex) and the adrenal glands the researchers propose that during ‘fight or flight’ (stress) there is reciprocal communication between multiple parts of the brain.

Why do I find this interesting? If there is communication between the part of the brain that controls movement and the organ that regulates stress (adrenal glands); instantly this research gives me a physiological explanation for the way people use physical activity/movement to manage stress.

What else is interesting about this research? The researchers also found the part of the primary motor cortex that had the most connections with the adrenal glands was the part involved with movement and stability of the axial body or what is commonly referred to as the core. Thus establishing an understanding around a physiological mechanism that suggests working the core could positively affect the amount of adrenaline in our system and reduce stress.

Pilates does a lot of things, but one thing it does very well is work the core; so with this new, emerging understanding, does Pilates (or working the core) become a strategy for coping with a stressful world?

Thanks for reading, Warwick..

Dum, R.P., Levinthal, D.J., & Strick, P.L. (2016). Motor, cognitive, and affective areas of the cerebral cortex influence the adrenal medulla. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(35), 9922-9927.