World-renowned athletes Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Tom Brady are known as the top performers in their respective sports of Formula 1, soccer, and football. Though these are all quite different sports with varying training regimens, all three of these athletes have one significant fitness regimen in common – the practice of pilates. 

The same is true for Elma Schnapp, who grew up as a classically trained ballet student and played various sports. Through her years as an athlete, Elma found that her pilates practice was essential to her success in all athletic ventures. 

Her passion for fitness and well-being drove her to go to medical school and learn more about the human body, eventually specializing in orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation during her residency. During this time, Elma truly began to understand the biological and psychological benefits of pilates. 

“Study after study has shown that fitness in general and pilates, in particular, improve strength, balance, as well as cardiovascular function,” Elma says. 

Through her training as a rehabilitation specialist and personal experiences, Elma recognizes that fitness programs are one of the strongest therapeutic modalities for mental health and help immensely in managing stress, anxiety, and depression, even before medications are contemplated. 

“As many of the readers of this magazine already know, for many of us, fitness and exercises are not a luxury. They are not an option. They are a necessity.” 

Elma hones her pilates practice by attending classes at Club Pilates three times a week, and as of March 2023, Elma has attended over 1,000 Club Pilates classes. Even when she can’t make it to a class, Elma will do her pilates exercises on her own before she starts her day. 

In recent years, Elma has garnered an interest in the role of exercise and physical fitness on epigenetics. Epigenetics is an emerging science that explores how experiences, rather than DNA, can affect the expression of genes. If these epigenetic changes occur in a parent before having a child, these alterations can be inherited, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. 

Elma provides the following example: a person who has never had a history of mental or emotional diagnoses but develops anxiety after a severe motor vehicle accident due to epigenetics may have offspring with a higher incidence of anxiety. Elma is now studying ways to reduce some of the negative effects associated with gene activation through the use of fitness in its various forms, both before having children and afterward. 

Elma is committed to her daily pilates practice and will continue to look at the effects of fitness and pilates and their role in managing anxiety and other mood disorders. 

By Zoe Harrison

Photo by Tindall Stephens