Movement is good for everyone. Regularly doing both aerobic and strength training exercises can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, some types of cancer, and heart disease. It also helps strengthen your bones and muscles.
Pilates is a type of activity that’s especially helpful for people who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). The program’s focus on stability and core muscle strength are good for improving balance and movement. Pilates also helps to reduce fatigue, a common symptom of MS.
All of these benefits come at very little cost. Pilates is gentle and low impact enough to be safe, even for people with reduced mobility.
Pilates is an exercise program that was developed in the 1920s by German fitness instructor Joseph Pilates. He originally created these movements for the purpose of rehabilitation, to help people recover from their injuries.
Over the years, Pilates evolved into a more general exercise program meant to enhance overall fitness and wellness. Pilates movements improve core strength, increase flexibility and stability, and build endurance.
Because the exercises are low impact, they’re generally doable for people of all ages and fitness levels. And a growing body of research suggests this program may be especially useful for people with MS.
Pilates has a number of benefits for MS. It can help:
- strengthen the muscles that support the joints
- improve balance, strength, stability, and flexibility
- increase awareness of body position
- improve walking distance
- enhance overall well-being and quality of life
- reduce pain and fatigue
- lower the risk of falling
- improve memory and other cognitive symptoms
A review of 14 studies looked at the various effects of Pilates on people with MS. The researchers found evidence that the practice improves fatigue, balance, walking ability, and overall quality of life.
The study concluded that Pilates is a safe and effective way to improve physical function in people with MS, with a couple of caveats. Several of the studies were small and not of good quality. And Pilates didn’t perform any better than other types of physical therapies.
Some gyms that have Pilates classes may sometimes use a machine called a Reformer. It looks a little like a bed with a sliding bench in the middle.
You don’t have to use a Reformer, or any other equipment, to do Pilates. All you need is a mat and your own body resistance.
Some Pilates workouts incorporate resistance bands or balls. Whether you use these accessories in your own practice is up to you, but they can help support your body while you go through the movements.
Although Pilates isn’t an aerobic exercise, you can still get hot and sweaty during a Pilates workout, which could flare up your symptoms. Exercise in an air-conditioned room or wear a cooling vest to avoid overheating. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Pilates is generally done with bare feet. Going sockless will give you a better grip on the floor, especially if you have foot drop. You’ll also be less likely to slip than you would be in socks.
Much of Pilates is done on a mat on the floor. If you can’t make it all the way down to the floor, sit in a chair instead.
Don’t overdo it during your workouts. Exercise only at your ability level. You never want to push yourself so far that you feel pain with any of these movements.
Pilates is generally safe for people of all fitness levels. Still, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before you add Pilates to your workout routine.
Take a Pilates class or follow along with a video at home the first few times to help you learn the movements. Ideally, you should find a program that’s tailored to people who have been diagnosed with MS, like these routines from the MS Society.
Start slowly. You may only be able to do a few minutes of Pilates your first time. Eventually, once you’re more comfortable with the moves, you can increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise. And always cool down for the same amount of time afterward.
Pilates is good for strengthening your core and the muscles that support your joints. It can help improve stability, balance, and movement in people with MS.
Yet Pilates isn’t a complete workout by itself. You also want to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, low-impact aerobic exercises like walking or bike riding each week.
Add in a few flexibility sessions, too. Stretching eases stiff muscles and improves your range of motion.