Get out your spandex and get fit. Yoga, Pilates and aerobics classes offer varying levels of cardio, strength and flexibility training. Many benefits of all three systems overlap but the differences may address your specific fitness goals. For global fitness, combine them, alternating classes or increasing the intensity level in a particular discipline to kick up your heart rate as you tighten your abs.
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice that includes breathing, movement and meditation to improve the energy flow, strength, flexibility and sense of calm in the body and mind. A physical practice consists of asanas, a series of poses that use body weight to strengthen and stretch muscles, ligaments and joints. Asanas also require mental focus to concentrate the mind on the present moment. Breathing techniques reduce stress and prepare the practitioner for meditation. Popular yoga styles in the West include: gentle hatha yoga, flowing vinyasa, Ashtanga, power yoga (a vigorous cardio workout) and hot yoga, which is sometimes practiced in a room heated to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Yoga is recommended for stress relief and for helping to prevent serious disease and chronic conditions like arthritis, depression, heart disease, osteoporosis and back pain. (See Reference 1)
Aerobics is vigorous, nonstop activity that raises your heart rate, strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves circulation, speeds up breathing and the delivery of oxygen to the blood stream, boosts healthy cholesterol levels and increases overall fitness. Low-impact aerobics like walking, swimming and some yoga routines, are less stressful to your joints. High-impact aerobics like running, sprinting, cross-country skiing, volleyball, tennis and basketball burn more calories, but they jar bones and muscles with harder landings. Aerobics classes offered by gyms may include spinning, dance aerobics, step aerobics or a series of continuous, energetic exercises set to music. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends three to four hours of aerobics weekly for optimum health. (See Reference 2) Benefits include lower risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, reduced levels of "bad" cholesterol, weight management, lower blood pressure and greater endurance.
Pilates is a body conditioning system invented by Joseph Pilates in the early twentieth century. Its delivery of long, lean muscles and strong, toned bodies initially made it a hit with dancers, but the 500 controlled exercises are now offered in studios across the country. (See Reference 5) Pilates consists of mat and machine workouts, although many gyms feature only Pilates mat classes. The exercises emphasize work on the core, the powerful muscles in the center of the body. Moves are performed with focus and alignment using springs, pulleys and cables on the machines for resistance. Mat work uses body weight against gravity to strengthen muscles. The exercises are low-impact but can be high-intensity and help with injury prevention, arthritis pain, recovery from back and neck injuries and building non-bulky muscle strength. A study published in the "Journal of Applied Research" found that Pilates machine work was equivalent to a workout on commercial weight-lifting equipment but exercised multiple muscle groups simultaneously and controlled joint movement to prevent injury. (See Reference 3)
You could mix-and-match yoga, Pilates and aerobics classes to enjoy the benefits of all three disciplines. Or discover how power yoga can be an intense aerobic session and Pilates can target particular muscles, like the abdominal muscles both before and after childbirth. The American Council on Exercise recommends cross-training to improve total fitness, reduce injuries, boost enthusiasm for maintaining an exercise program and control weight. (See Reference 4) A balanced fitness routine provides endurance, strength and flexibility through a variety of exercises and activities or by adding a new activity to an existing program. Try dance aerobics with a yoga practice or schedule a weekly Pilates class to deepen core stability. You'll keep boredom at bay as you trim, tone and toughen up to meet the challenges of your active life.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .