Return to Good Thinking About…

Good Thinking About…
Alternative Exercise Therapies

Jogging legsWhat are Alternative Exercise Therapies?

The health benefits of regular exercise cannot be valued highly enough. Knowledge about exercise developed in all cultures, so unique exercise regimens emerged in different parts of the world and are often embedded in the specific concepts about health and disease of that region. Examples are t’ai chi (China) and yoga (India). Both include meditative aspects, need to be practised regularly and place a strong emphasis on disease prevention and wellbeing.

In addition to these traditional forms of exercise, there are modern variations on the theme. An example is pilates, developed relatively recently by Joseph Pilates (1880–1967). This approach integrates breathing, proper body mechanics and strengthening exercises, as well as stabilization of the pelvis and the trunk. It is estimated that there are now over 10 million people who practise pilates worldwide.

What is the Evidence?

Although there is far less research into alternative exercises than into common sports or physiotherapy exercise, some encouraging conclusions have started to emerge. For example, yoga, which encompasses a whole lifestyle including diet and meditation, has been shown to be effective in reducing cardiovascular risks.

T’ai chi has also been studied quite thoroughly. It improves balance, prevents falls in the elderly, enhances cardiovascular fitness, increases joint flexibility, prevents osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and improves quality of life in patients suffering from chronic heart failure. There is, however, no significant evidence that alternative exercise therapies convey any additional benefits compared to many forms of conventional exercise.

In conclusion, regular exercise, whether exotic or conventional, is undoubtedly good for our health and wellbeing. Exercises are best learned in small groups and then have to be practised regularly – once or twice a week, or even daily. A well-trained, experienced tutor is important, as alternative exercise therapies can carry the sort of risks associated with any exercise that puts the body under strain.

For more information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine).