During your lifetime, your body undergoes tremendous change. It’s no secret that as you age, your body requires more care, and your cells’ natural rejuvenation process slows.
For many, the most notable changes of aging are a decrease in strength, mobility, and balance.
Over time these changes can affect your daily activities due to fear of falling or injury, which often may result in a loss of independence and reduce your overall sense of livelihood.
The great news is that a consistent and conscious exercise program can alleviate or improve the typical symptoms of aging.
Pilates is an excellent full-body, low impact method known to align and strengthen the structure of the body.
Regardless of your age, conditioning, or ability, it’s never too late to start a Pilates practice. Pilates can meet you where you are in skill and strength and support your livelihood for years to come.
Read on to learn more about Pilates for older adults.
Pilates — originally known as “Contrology”— is a system of exercises developed by Joseph H. Pilates in the early 20th century.
Joseph Pilates wholeheartedly lived and breathed his work, maintaining strength and vitality well into his 80s (1).
Pilates is popularly known as a core-focused workout, but it’s actually a whole-body exercise. It was designed to align the body by correcting muscular imbalances and enhancing movement patterns.
Pilates works with your breath, targeting your smaller and deeper stabilizing muscles. It supports your joints through a balance of strength, mobility, and flexibility.
There are over 600 variations of exercises performed either on specialized equipment or a mat.
Pilates is a useful method with benefits for both beginners and experienced athletes alike, as well as people in every phase of life, regardless of their age, gender, or ability.
Pilates is a whole-body exercise program designed to align the body, correct muscular imbalances, enhance movement patterns, and create a balance of strength and mobility.
Numerous studies have shown that a tremendous number of benefits are derived from a Pilates practice — and at various stages of life. Pilates offers improved quality of life to those who practice it (
Of course, you should always consult a doctor before embarking on any exercise program, and if you have any existing health concerns, it’s best to work one-on-one with a qualified instructor or in a specialized class.
Specifically, when healthy aging is your main priority, finding a class for older adults or working privately with an instructor can help you maximize your progress and reap the many benefits of Pilates.
So, what are those benefits?
We’re glad you asked. Here are the benefits of Pilates that are especially relevant in later life.
May improve bone density
Studies have shown that Pilates may improve bone density, especially among postmenopausal women (
Why is this important? Low bone density means your bones may break more easily, even when performing daily activities when standing or walking. Maintaining bone density as you age is important for counteracting the onset of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
If maintaining bone density is one of your goals, try Pilates on the apparatus. Unlike Pilates matwork, exercises performed on the Reformer and Tower (or Cadillac) use spring resistance as “weights.” This type of Pilates is likely better for improving bone density than matwork alone.
How many stories have we all heard of people shrinking as they age? Or starting to slouch forward?
Misalignment and poor posture can be attributed both to loss of bone density and bad habits. But as you age, these things contribute to compression of the joints and organs, as well as tight and imbalanced muscles, which often results in pain.
Pilates focuses on aligning and balancing your body with an emphasis on creating ease and mobility through the joints (7).
The combination of strength and suppleness in your muscles, along with a deeper awareness of alignment, often results in better posture.
Improves balance and gait
Balance and coordination are vital for everyday activities like walking. Loss of strength and mobility, along with poor posture, can cause a chain reaction that starts with a reluctance to move and often evolves into fear of falling.
Additionally, people often experience changes in gait patterns as they age. Many lose ankle mobility and then have swollen and stiff feet that they begin to drag or shuffle.
Pilates improves balance and gait through specific balance training and strengthening of the trunk, hips, legs, and ankles (
Mobility is the balance of strength and flexibility that allows for a full and controlled range of motion. Strength alone can leave you tight, stiff, and prone to injury. Flexibility on its own can leave the aging body unsupported, weak, and also prone to injury.
Studies have shown that Pilates’ smooth transitions and mindful controlled movements are an ideal formula to build strength and support, improving range of motion at the joints. This allows for ease of movement in everyday and extracurricular activities (
Decreases stress and improves your mood
Pilates is a mindful practice based on the principle of breath in conjunction with movement. The ability to focus inward and breathe builds self-awareness and calms the nervous system.
Studies have shown that Pilates enhances your mood, decreasing anxiety and depression. And one study noted that Pilates — more than the other forms of exercise included in the research — offered psychosocial benefits for older adults (
Improves memory and cognitive thinking
Blaming age for memory loss and forgetfulness is a thing of the past.
Studies show that exercise like Pilates brings blood flow to the brain, contributing to new neuron development responsible for thinking, memory, and learning (
Decreases back pain
Pilates is famously known for targeting the core, which consists of more muscles than just the abdominals.
The core comprises the muscles of the back, hip, inner thighs, and pelvic floor. It acts as a supple brace that houses, lifts, and supports the organs and spine. When your core is strong, your back is better supported.
In numerous studies, participants have reported improvements in chronic lower back pain when practicing Pilates, in some cases after just 3 months (9,
Studies have shown that Pilates helps with immunity, especially among older adults. One study including men over the age of 65 found significant improvements in immune system function (19, 20).
Why? Pilates gets the blood circulating and the lymph flow pumping, both of which enhance your body’s ability to remove toxins from the body and oxygenate effectively.
Pilates prepares your body for everyday activities that require strength and mobility. In Pilates, there’s significant attention paid to joint support and stability — and learning to move with that in mind makes you less susceptible to injury.
Self-awareness and a deeper connection to your body also heighten proprioception, helping you become more mindful of your surroundings and how you move through space (
Pilates offers numerous benefits for older adults.
It’s important to consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, and ideally start with one-on-one sessions.
Individualized sessions with a qualified Pilates instructor can help you confidently learn the fundamentals and make any modifications.
Alternatively, there are numerous Pilates group classes geared toward active agers. They’re advertised as such and taught by instructors who have received specialized training.
While some older adults are rockin’ hardcore, traditional Pilates workouts, some signature Pilates exercises are contraindicated for anyone with low bone density or osteoporosis.
Generally, you should avoid excessive twisting, flexion (think of a typical crunch), and certainly loaded flexion like rolling in a curved position on your back. Traditional exercises like Rolling Like a Ball, Jackknife, and Roll Over are to be avoided when bone density is a concern.
In general, it’s important to consult your doctor before beginning Pilates, and it’s best to avoid exercises that include excessive twisting and flexion, as well as weighted flexion of the spine.
Osteoporosis is a growing global concern (
Low bone mass and deterioration of bone quality — the characteristics of osteoporosis — translate to a weakened and vulnerable skeletal structure. This increases the risk of fractures, the most common and debilitating of which involve the hip, spine, shoulder, and wrist.
Increasing bone density through weight-bearing exercise is key to slowing bone deterioration (
A specialized Pilates program incorporating weight-bearing exercises, such as standing Pilates, or resistance on specialized, spring-loaded equipment is beneficial.
Pilates’ focus on alignment and its numerous exercises for strengthening the core, spine, and legs work toward building a stable and functioning structure.
A good Pilates program will not only build strength and stability but also improve balance, decreasing fall and fracture risk. It’ll also build better habits, such as learning the most optimal way to carry and pick up objects or get up and down from the floor or a chair (
It’s best not to follow a traditional Pilates program with excessive flexion, twisting, and loaded flexion because movements of that nature are contraindicated. There are, however, plenty of safe, interesting, and fun bone-building Pilates modifications.
Those with osteoporosis can benefit greatly from Pilates due to its weight-bearing exercises, emphasis on balance and alignment, and promotion of muscle efficiency. Still, certain exercises should be avoided. It’s best to work with a specialized instructor.
Chair Pilates is the middle ground between a floor practice and a standing practice.
A chair is a perfect prop for helping you get down to the ground or supporting your balance when standing. If neither of these options is suitable right now, you can still benefit from a good workout while seated on the chair.
A chair can provide feedback and proprioception of where your pelvis and spine are in space, help you find ideal length and posture without doing fully weight-bearing exercises, and strengthen the legs.
Plus, Pilates on the chair allows you to get a workout in if you don’t have much space or are working at a desk.
Finally, Chair Pilates adequately teaches you to develop better habits for getting up and down from a chair, bench, or car seat.
Chair Pilates can be a great alternative to traditional Pilates for older adults.
With people living longer, a consistent and mindful exercise practice is essential to maintaining quality of life.
Common effects of aging include decreased mobility, flexibility, and muscle mass, which can lead to stiffness, pain, and loss of independence.
What’s more, a fear of falling and bone fractures can negatively affect the livelihoods of older adults.
Pilates, with all of its variety and modifications, is a fantastic, low impact form of exercise for older adults.
Numerous Pilates programs are backed by the medical community, bone-safe, and geared toward the mature adult.
Pilates meets the individual where they’re at and builds strength, confidence, and mobility. It also produces those feel-good endorphins, leading to a more energetic mood to keep you performing at your best!