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The Value of Slow Exercise in a Hyperactive World

‘In the war against the cult of speed, the front line is inside our heads.’

–Carl Honoré

Over the holidays I re-read Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slow. I approached this thoughtful book, published in 2004, with new questions and a fresh perspective in the midst of the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed our lives in myriad ways, including our relationship to speed. Long lines, shuttered shops and centers, and new routines such as distancing and working from home have forced people to slow down, isolate, reduce their social activities, and be more patient generally. People have also experienced the deaths of loved ones and for some, serious illness and lasting side-effects from the virus. We’ve all had to reflect on what’s really important in our lives.

Acceleration, argues Honoré, is our default setting. And will remain so until we change our thinking. Speed is built into the world around us and has influenced our attitudes and impulses since we were small. He writes about the cult of speed, and what is lost when life is accelerated. ‘When you accelerate things that should not be accelerated, when you forget how to slow down, there is a price to pay.’ The price is neatly summed up: ‘Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity.’ Speed affects the quality of our lives because it alters how we make connections. With everything: people, culture, food, and leisure.

Honoré’s convincing argument for slow includes exercises and movement. He challenges the conventional view that faster workouts are better than slower ones. He highlights the advantages of methods such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, Pilates, and even slow weightlifting.  Each of these methods uses controlled movements. Each of these approaches promotes inner calm, brings the body back to equilibrium, and improves balance and concentration.

As I return to my weekly blog: Adapting Pilates for Our Longer Lives, I wonder how, as we age, will our relationship with fast and slow exercise change?


Pilates – A Slow Exercise


The influence of eastern philosophies of exercise on Joseph Pilates can be seen in a present-day Pilates class. The Pilates Method follows a mind-body approach. The exercises, which do not have to be confined to a mat or a Pilates machine, are associated with physiotherapy and are known to be kind on the joints. The goal is not to accelerate the body with sweaty intensity, but to regulate movement with breath, control and precision of movement. This makes Pilates particularly suited to older, even elderly adults.

Older adults appreciate the focus of a Pilates class which comes with slowing down, taking care, and concentrating on one move at a time. It is meditative and mindful – the opposite to sitting on a stationary bike in a gym and watching TV and/or chatting on the phone as you work out.

As we age, we want intervals of intensity, but we also want and need more rest pauses, more stretching, and more gentle movements mixed in with challenging ones.  Most of us do not want to go full out for the entire workout, in the same way that we no longer push ourselves at full throttle for the entire day.

We do not know yet how quickly or slowly speed will return to us once this crisis is over. But as ageing adults we are learning to embrace life, not race through it. We want activities that support us to build and maintain our calm, strength, and balance in a world ruled by speed. As Honoré reminds us, slow pleasures such as gardening, crafting, walking, reading, yoga, Pilates and other mind-body approaches will help us rethink our ‘approach to everything.’

I hope you enjoy the ten-minute video below. The focus is on slow movements and stretching using a large ball and a mat. Even though the stretches were designed with older adults in mind, some of the stretches may not be appropriate for you. If you have knee problems you will not be able to do some of these ball stretches. I suggest you watch the video first to see if there are any you might want to avoid.

Colleen Craig

Colleen Craig

Colleen is the author of Pilates on the Ball, Abs on the Ball, and Strength Training on the Ball, and the producer of the Pilates on the Ball DVD.

Disclaimer: The information and services provided in the blogs, videos, website and classes are provided with the understanding that Colleen Craig is not engaged in rendering legal, medical counselling or other professional services or advice.

We highly recommend that you watch the video first before attempting an exercise. Check with your doctor or health care practitioner to be sure these exercises are suitable for you. Pay attention to modifications and stop if there is any discomfort.

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