Pilates for Seniors: Benefits, Considerations, and More (2023)

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.

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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.

(Video) Standing Pilates for Seniors- 30 minutes of exercise to Improve Strength & Build Confidence

Summary

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 (2, 3, 4).

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 (2, 5, 6).

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.

Improves posture

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.

(Video) 15 Minute Senior Pilates Chair Class- to build Core Strength in a Safe and Gentle Way

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 (8, 9, 10, 11).

Improves mobility

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 (11, 12).

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 (3, 8, 13, 14).

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 (15, 16).

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, 17).

Boosts immunity

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.

Prevents injury

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 (8, 19).

Summary

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.

Summary

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.

(Video) Physical Literacy and Pilates: The Benefits of Attentive Exercise and How to Increase Brain Power

Osteoporosis is a growing global concern (21).

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 (22).

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 (5, 8, 10).

(Video) 30 Minute Mat Pilates for Seniors to build Strength, Confidence and Flexibility

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.

Summary

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.

Summary

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.

(Video) Standing Pilates for Seniors to Improve, Balance, Strength and Coordination | 30 Mins

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!

FAQs

What are 3 benefits of exercise for seniors? ›

Benefits of Physical Activity

Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength. Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being. Helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.

Which is better for older people yoga or Pilates? ›

When it comes to choosing between Pilates vs. yoga for seniors, they can actually work together. Strengthening your core in your Pilates classes will give you better balance in yoga. And increasing your flexibility in your yoga classes will allow you to move bigger and deeper in Pilates.

What are contraindications in Pilates? ›

Other contraindications which reached >80% consensus were: acute pain, severe night pain, possible fracture, possible tumour, abdominal hernia, and possible infection. These are also relative contraindications for other treatment forms such as manual therapy and dry needling.

What is the best exercise for a 70 year old woman? ›

Get aerobic exercise: Most older adults need about 2½ hours of aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, every week. That's about 30 minutes on most days. Endurance exercises like walking, dancing, and playing tennis help your breathing, heart rate, and energy. Stay flexible: Try stretching and yoga.

Does Pilates help arthritis? ›

There are a number of ways Pilates can help relieve symptoms of arthritis and support healthy joints, with benefits including an improved body awareness, strengthened muscles, reduced pain, and correction of postural imbalances. Pain is one of the major symptoms in both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Is Pilates good for a 70 year old woman? ›

Pilates is perfect for older adults because it does not have the impact on the body that other forms of exercise do, and is not nearly as severe on the joints as most workouts are,” says Ellie Herman, owner of several Pilates studios, and a renowned Pilates instructor and author.

Is Pilates good for back pain? ›

Pilates is a particularly good exercise for many people with back pain as it is designed to strengthen the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, which provide support to the back. Pilates has been found to reduce chronic back pain and the disability associated with back pain.

What is the main purpose of Pilates? ›

Pilates is a low impact exercise that creates optimal strength through muscle balance and fine-tuning neuromuscular patterns. The optimal strength gained from a consistent Pilates practice is nonrigid, balancing strength with mobility and flexibility.

Is Pilates good for osteoporosis? ›

Pilates is an effective and safe form of exercise for anyone with Osteoporosis or its precursor Osteopenia. Due to its proponents of low bone mass and risk of fractures, there are contraindicated Pilates exercises that should be avoided.

What happens when you do Pilates everyday? ›

You'll develop a stronger core by doing Pilates every day

As a full-body exercise method, much of a Pilates workout is centered around core movements. As a result, doing Pilates every day means that you'll get a top-notch core workout.

What exercises should seniors not do? ›

The following are some of the worst exercises for the elderly:
  • Crunches/sit-ups. Crunches are a very common exercise, but also one seniors should avoid. ...
  • Squats. There are several risks associated with squats if performed by the elderly. ...
  • Long runs. ...
  • Leg presses. ...
  • Deadlifts. ...
  • Stair climbs.

What are the four main types of exercise that seniors need to stay healthy? ›

Research has shown that it's important to get all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

What kind of exercise should a 70 year old do? ›

Adults aged 65 and older need: At least 150 minutes a week (for example, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking. Or they need 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity such as hiking, jogging, or running. At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles.

What happens to a woman's body at 70? ›

Age spots and wrinkles are no surprise, but you may also find that you bruise more and sweat less. Your skin may be drier and more paperlike. It might be itchy and more easily irritated, too. It can help to switch to gentler soap and use moisturizer and sunscreen regularly.

Can a 73 year old woman get in shape? ›

You can improve your fitness at any age. "The stories in this area are actually very dramatic. Even people 100 years old or older can build muscle strength," says Dr. Edward Phillips, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School.

How far should a 72 year old walk daily? ›

Generally, older adults in good physical shape walk somewhere between 2,000 and 9,000 steps daily. This translates into walking distances of 1 and 4-1/2 miles respectively.

Is Pilates good for hip stiffness? ›

Is Pilates Good For Hip Pain? Pilates is an excellent way to help ease discomfort in the hip which can be caused by issues involving muscles, ligaments or tendons surrounding the joint, the joint itself, or even referred from the lower back.

Is Pilates good for knees? ›

This 33-minute class focuses on strengthening the knees and improving mobility of the knee joint. Doing pilates regularly can help to improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension.

What is the best exercise for stiff joints? ›

Examples of low-impact aerobic exercises that are easier on your joints include walking, bicycling, swimming and using an elliptical machine. Try to work your way up to 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise per week. You can split that time into 10-minute blocks if that's easier on your joints.

Can you do Pilates without getting on the floor? ›

Can someone even do Pilates on a mattress? Believe it or not, it is possible to use only your mattress to do a Pilates workout. According to celebrity Pilates instructor Erika Bloom, who has developed such a workout, “The bed is a great, easy place to get a toning, lengthening workout using just your body weight.”

Do you wear shoes when doing Pilates? ›

Skip shoes.

Pilates is usually done barefoot—no fancy footwear needed. If you prefer to wear socks, buy a pair with grippy bottoms to ensure your feet don't slip.

Is Pilates more difficult than yoga? ›

Pilates exercises are a lot more intense and results may be noticed much quicker than yoga. Through frequent Pilates exercises, a flatter and firmer stomach may be easier to obtain. If you have back issues, care has to be taken with some yoga poses as they can sometimes exacerbate the problem.

What is the single best exercise for lower back pain? ›

Walking, swimming, and biking may all help reduce back pain. Start with short sessions and build up over time. If your back is hurting, try swimming, where the water supports your body. Avoid any strokes that twist your body.

Can Pilates worsen sciatica? ›

It's very unlikely that Pilates will cause sciatica, although it is true that certain exercises may make a sciatic situation worse. If you have any type of sciatica, do not engage in any exercises that have you rolling like a ball, where you are rolling back and forth on your spine.

Is Pilates good for sciatica? ›

Pilates is a great way to offer you a simple sciatica treatment that helps reduce the impact your sciatica pain can have. It doesn't place too much pressure on your body, so it is a simple way to exercise for sciatica pain sufferers.

Why is exercise important for seniors? ›

Exercise has countless benefits for those of all ages, including a healthier heart, stronger bones and improved flexibility. For seniors, there are additional benefits, like the fact that regular exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases, lowers the chance of injury and can even improve one's mood.

Why is it important for older adults to exercise? ›

As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent or delay many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

What are the four main types of exercise that seniors need to stay healthy? ›

Research has shown that it's important to get all four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

Why activities are important for seniors? ›

Additionally, senior physical activity decreases the risk of stroke, cancers, type 2 diabetes, depression, and dementia. It also arrests the deterioration of overall health and allows seniors to maintain their independence longer.

How often should a 70 year old exercise? ›

Adults aged 65 and over should: aim to be physically active every day, even if it's just light activity. do activities that improve strength, balance and flexibility on at least 2 days a week.

What activity would be the most difficult for an older woman who has diminished dexterity? ›

Fine motor skills are lost, which make painting with watercolors very difficult for a person with diminished dexterity.

What are 10 recommendations you would make to an older person to maintain their body as healthily as possible? ›

Consider helping your aging loved one incorporate these 10 geriatric care tips to help improve their overall health and wellness.
  • Eat healthy. ...
  • Focus on prevention. ...
  • Stay informed on medication management. ...
  • Get some sleep. ...
  • Remember cognitive health. ...
  • Screen for vision changes. ...
  • Socialize. ...
  • Stay physically active.
24 Feb 2022

How can I boost my energy after 70? ›

Here are nine great ways older adults can keep themselves healthier and more energetic.
  1. Proper Nutrition. A well-balanced diet is essential to consistent energy levels. ...
  2. Eating Breakfast. ...
  3. Green Tea. ...
  4. B Vitamin Supplements. ...
  5. Drinking Water. ...
  6. Magnesium. ...
  7. Daily Exercise. ...
  8. Consistent Sleep.
4 Jan 2017

Can a 70 year old woman get in shape? ›

No matter what your age, you can improve your fitness.

If it's been a long time since you've exercised and you're feeling less than fit, you might think that it's too late to make a change. But you're wrong. You can improve your fitness at any age.

What is the best exercise activity for a 65 year old? ›

If you're an older adult looking to establish an exercise routine, you should, ideally, be able to incorporate 150 minutes of moderate endurance activity into your week. This can include walking, swimming, cycling, and a little bit of time every day to improve strength, flexibility, and balance.

How many steps should a 70 year old woman take a day? ›

Many experts agree that the recommended steps per day for seniors is 7,000-10,000. People who live with a disability or chronic illness can still benefit from an active lifestyle, and depending on individual abilities may strive for 5,500 steps per day.

How can seniors improve quality of life? ›

Here are some tips on how to improve quality of life for seniors.
  1. Practice Regular Social Interaction. People of all ages benefit from regular social interaction. ...
  2. Stay Connected With Family And Friends. ...
  3. Invest Time In Hobbies. ...
  4. Continue Or Renew Physical Activities. ...
  5. Engage In Mental Health Activities.

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