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Three Surprising Ways Pilates Can Improve Your Life

09/06/2014 15:01 BST | Updated 09/08/2014 10:59 BST

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Unless you've been asleep for the past 10 years, you've likely heard that Pilates has become the go-to exercise for athletes, dancers and celebrities looking to strengthen and tone their bodies.

What you may not know is that this trendy fitness regime was originally developed by Joseph Pilates as a rehabilitation programme for wounded, bedridden army troops during World War I. You may also not be aware that Pilates, although fantastic at toning those troublesome spots, also offers many not so obvious life-enhancing benefits.

Here are some of my favourite (not so conventional) benefits of Pilates:

1. Pilates can stop desk slouching

It's a well-known fact that Pilates helps strengthen your core, which is very important to note as we gear up for beach season. But the added bonus here is that a strong centre doesn't just mean killer abs, it also leads to improved posture. This is especially important after research revealed that British office workers spend the equivalent of five years of their lives sitting at their desks.

Pilates works its magic by focusing our attention on the deep core muscles in charge of supporting our spine and pelvis whilst they are in correct anatomical alignment. Anatomical what? Let me explain. When your spine and pelvis are correctly aligned, your muscles will be held at their ideal length, without tension. In other words, your shoulders will relax, your neck and head will move freely and you'll feel less stress in your hips, legs and feet. Unfortunately, most of us slouch at our desk, carry a purse or briefcase and wear cute (but highly unsupportive) shoes, making it next to impossible for our spine and pelvis to be in perfect alignment 24/7.

This is where Pilates can help. Through targeted Pilates exercises, you will develop a better understanding of where the muscles that support your spine and pelvis are located and how to strengthen them. Over time, your core will be better supported and held in better alignment. Tada! No more slouching at your desk!

2. Pilates can make you taller

Ok - I can't promise that you'll grow three inches, but I can tell you that you will begin to look and feel taller. Pilates combines resistance training with flexibility, which helps you build leaner, less bulky muscles. Combine long muscles with better posture and you'll naturally start to feel lengthened. The end result: when you feel taller, you look taller!

3. Pilates can shrink your muffin top

When we feel stressed, our body releases the hormone cortisol, which in high doses can increase your appetite, weaken your immune system, make you tired and cause your body to store excess fat (particularly around the belly).

Pilates has an incredible mood-boosting and stress-relieving super power. The deep conscious breathing combined with slow and steady exercises help to focus the mind whilst relaxing the body, thereby reducing stress. This means cortisol is ultimately lowered in the body, as is the excess fat around your stomach. Win, win!

Who would have guessed that a programme developed for injured soldiers would become one of the most effective modern day fitness regimes for the body and mind? So what's stopping you? Grab a mat and give it a go!

Has Pilates improved your life? Share with us in the comments below.