Fit for Life: Pilates and the Art of Aging Gracefully

Ready to get into Pilates? You can see the Pilates classes offered by WFCC here, or you can work with one of our excellent personal trainers to do some one-on-one Pilates work! Get in touch to see how we can help.

You’ve probably heard about the seemingly never-ending list of celebrities who are devotees of Pilates. But just what is Pilates and what is it all about? How can it be of benefit to women as we age?

This post is a follow-up to our recent article about yoga and its many benefits for women at all stages of life.

Though yoga and Pilates differ in their overall approach to fitness, they do share some common features and benefits. These commonalities include: an emphasis on building flexibility and strength, the ability to alleviate aches and pains, and focusing on the breath to promote a peaceful mind – all of which we’ll discuss in a bit more detail later on.

Joseph Pilates developed his method of exercise in the early 20th century. He derived his system from his study of yoga as well as gymnastics, boxing, and martial arts. The exercises are a form of resistance training performed either on a mat, or with specifically designed equipment and apparatuses.

Pilates is one of the most efficient types of strength training because each exercise uses a precise range of motion to target specific muscle groups.

Pilates is also a low-impact form of exercise, which is appropriate for women of all ages. Low-impact exercises place minimal stress on your joints, knees, hips and ankles and are great for women who suffer from pain in these areas. Pilates methods also offer extensive possible variations on the exercises that make them accessible to differing fitness and ability levels.

Here are some of the benefits of Pilates to help women age gracefully, no matter what stage of life they may be at:

Building Strength and Flexibility

Proponents of the Pilates method claim that it has many benefits such as conditioning the various parts of the body for active movement4, building core strength, improving posture through proper alignment of the spine, as well as the development of lean muscle mass.

As a fitness system, Pilates was created with both strength and flexibility in mind and it has been shown to be effective in this regard. For example, one study found that middle- aged participants who did Pilates twice a week for 3 months demonstrated significant improvements in flexibility and muscular endurance.

Pilates also helps to increase core (abs, lower back, hips and buttock) strength and stability.

Fitness activities that promote building strength, balance, and improved flexibility are of great benefit to your body as you advance in years. As women age, these factors all play a key role in preventing falls and broken bones. Post-menopausal women can lose 1-2% of their bone mass a year, but strength training actually helps women regain bone density while also building muscle. This means that exercises such as Pilates can help slow down some of the ways in which your body experiences the aging process.

Pilates for Pain Relief

In addition to the general benefits for your body as you age, Pilates is good for conditioning specific muscle systems or bones that might need special attention. Doctors and physiotherapists often recommend Pilates to patients with back pain or who have experienced spinal injuries.

A very interesting study conducted by Queen’s University found Pilates to be more beneficial than conventional therapies for people suffering from back pain11. What’s even more interesting is that the same study found that the benefits remained a year after completing their Pilates training.

Pilates may also be an effective tool for combating pain associated with some other
common ailments faced by women as they age such as Sciatia (sciatic nerve pain),
arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Focusing on Breath, Calming the Body and Mind

Joseph Pilates believed that mental and physical healths were interrelated and that using his approach would prevent ailments such as heart disease. While there hasn’t been much research done around the specific efficacy of Pilates to prevent disease, Pilates does place an emphasis on being mindful of breathing while exercising. Deep breathing is associated with relaxation and decreased stress. Managing stress is beneficial to everyone’s overall health and wellbeing.

The breathing techniques used in Pilates aim to enhance focus on the muscle groups being used and also help further activate them. Becoming actively aware of the breath also brings mental clarity around body awareness. This may be beneficial to women with self-esteem issues that can arise around changing, maturing bodies.

Similarly to yogic breathing, Pilates breathing techniques are thought to improve mood and promote stillness of mind. One clinical study found that participants who did Pilates reported improved mood and quality of sleep. Another study found that symptoms of depression were significantly improved in women recovering from breast cancer after 8 weeks of Pilates classes.

Overall, Pilates is a great method of resistance training that can benefit women of all ages. If you’d like to look into Pilates classes here at WFCC, you can find the details here, and get in touch with your local WFCC club to sign up!