Knockaloe - Military camp on the Isle of Man where Pilates was interned during WW1

In our day to activities, we constantly fight off illness with our immune system.  Exercise helps our whole body, including our immune system, to function properly.  Here’s a little bit of history behind the Pilates Method and how it came to be, as well as how it is said to have been helpful in warding off the Spanish Flu at the start of the 1900s.

“Joseph Pilates was born in Mönchengladbach, a small town near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1880. He was a small and sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He was so skinny that he couldn’t fight back when he was being bullied at school, and it was these conditions that caused him to begin the journey to fitness and health. His father was a prizewinning gymnast and his mother a naturopath. A family physician gave him a discarded anatomy book and as he put it “I learned every page, every part of the body; I would move each part as I memorized it. As a child, I would lie in the woods for hours, hiding and watching the animals move, how the mother taught the young.” he said. He studied both Eastern and Western forms of exercise including yoga, Zen, and ancient Greek and Roman regimens. By the time he was 14 he had worked so hard he had developed his body to the point that he was modelling for anatomy charts.

When WW1 broke out in 1914 he was interned along with other German nationals in a “camp” for enemy aliens in Lancaster. There he taught wrestling and self-defense, boasting that his students would emerge stronger than they were before being interned. It was here that he began devising his system of original exercises that later became “Contrology”.  He was then transferred to another camp on The Isle of Man where he became something of a nurse and worked with many internees who suffered from wartime diseases and incarceration. He then began devising equipment to rehabilitate them, taking the springs from the beds and rigging exercise apparatus for the bedridden! In 1918, a terrible epidemic of influenza swept the world, killing millions of people, tens of thousands in England. None of Joe’s followers succumbed even though the camps were the hardest hit! “

In the conclusion of a recent broadly published paper – Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan (2018) by John P. Campbell & James E. Turner – evidence from epidemiological studies showed that leading a physically active lifestyle reduces the incidence of communicable (e.g., bacterial and viral infections) and non-communicable diseases (e.g., cancer), implying that immune competency is enhanced by regular exercise bouts.

Many of the ‘pumping’ style exercises in Pilates require the rhythmic breath that pumps fresh oxygenated blood throughout the whole body.  This rejuvenates and cleanses the body allowing the lymphatic and immune systems to do their job more effectively.

It is well known that regular exercise – especially if performed the way the body was designed to perform it – helps to boost one’s immune system.  Pilates exercises focus on the lymphatic and respiratory systems as well as the core muscles, which greatly improve the body’s ability to function at its best.