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Have You Tried Pilates Yet?

Instead, we spend most of the day sitting, often slouched over a computer, says Ellie Herman, author of Pilates for Dummies and a Pilates trainer with studios in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.

"There's so much sitting, everyone has back and neck problems," says Herman, who originally started doing Pilates to rehabilitate from a dance injury. "They're starting to realize they need to do something to help strengthen their posture."

For many, particularly baby boomers who are becoming more aware of increasingly aging bodies, stooping shoulders, and greater propensity for injury, Pilates serves as an insurance policy of sorts.

The core muscles of the back and pelvis anchor the body and keep the spine properly aligned in movement, whether it's picking up a baby or darting for that tennis ball, says Boise, Idaho, physical therapist Sara Carpenter. "Neglecting the core sets you up for injury. Strengthening it takes pressure off the compensating knees, back, and shoulders."

Unfortunately, most of the exercise we do doesn't involve movement of the spine, says George. "We work our arms and our legs, holding our bodies still. As for the stomach, we either skip it altogether, or we do a few crunches at the end of a workout."

As a result, she says, people forget how to move their bodies and articulate through the spine. Pilates gives that back.

Another advantage, says Carpenter, is that people with chronic injuries or painful physical conditions such as arthritis can rehabilitate using the apparatus without risking injury. But she does warn against just anybody running out to take a mat class.

"The downside is, some of the moves in a mat class are very difficult, even for a fit person. You need to respect your body and know what your limitations are," says Carpenter.

It's also important to be an educated consumer.

The increasing demand for Pilates classes, particularly in gyms, has created problems, according to longtime Pilates instructors. With no regulating body overseeing training, there are vastly different levels of education among teachers.

Kevin Bowen, president of the Pilates Method Alliance, a nonprofit professional advocacy group, warns those interested in learning the method to seek out an instructor who has been through a qualified, comprehensive teacher training program.

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