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7 Ways Pilates Keeps Aging Bodies Moving

May 3, 2021

“If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
— Joseph Pilates

 

There is an old saying that goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is especially true as we get older and our bodies go through the inevitable aging process. In the senior population, disuse of the body often results in patterns of poor posture, gait deficiencies, and a general decrease in balance, coordination, bone and muscle mass, and even cognitive skills. Medical professionals swear by physical exercise as a tonic for the many ailments plaguing an aging body, and for seniors, it is especially important that exercise be safe, effective, and low-impact. For this reason, many seniors and aging adults prefer Pilates. Read on to learn how Pilates helps keep aging bodies moving.

 

Balance and Coordination

It is all too common for older adults to lose balance and coordination skills as they age. This makes them much more susceptible to falls, accidents, and injuries. Pilates helps strengthen muscles that are key for balance, like the inner core and muscles in the hips and legs. Exercises can be given for both sides of the body, or one side of the body at a time, always from a safe, supported position. Pilates also enhances body awareness and trains practitioners to maintain stability while on a moving surface, such as the carriage of a reformer. In any given Pilates session, coordination skills are challenged as practitioners are asked to physically apply the verbal cues and instructions given by the instructor, kind of like a game of Simon Says. 

 

Bone Strength

As our age increases, so does the importance of bone health, especially for women. Statistics show that approximately 1 in 5 women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, a disease in which bones have too little bone density. With osteoporosis, bones become weak or brittle, making them extra susceptible to breaking during a fall or accident. However, regular strength training helps reduce or prevent the effects of osteoporosis. For older adults with osteoporosis or osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis), Pilates is a great option for strength training because it is gentle and low-impact, making it very safe and effective. As a bonus, Pilates also helps increase balance and coordination to help reduce the risk of falls that could result in bone injury.

 

Brain Power

When it comes to reducing the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, evidence suggests that physical exercise and activities that challenge cognitive skills are helpful. Pilates effectively combines these two strategies through progressive physical coordination challenges. These exercises can be as simple as lifting and lowering one leg up and down while keeping the pelvis stable, or as complex as having several limbs moving at once. Adding in repetitive movement sequencing or choreography that challenges memory and motor control is another useful way to keep the brain active during a Pilates session.

 

Joint Health

Healthy joints are essential for healthy movement, and healthy movement is essential for healthy joints. Pilates takes joints through their full range of motion and uses repetitive, flowing movements that stimulate synovial fluid production to keep joints lubricated and nourished. For the older population, this is incredibly important for maintaining joint mobility, particularly in the spine, hips, and feet. It also helps prolong or prevent major surgeries like hip or knee replacements, and is an excellent form of exercise for people who have had those types of surgeries (once they’ve completed physical therapy, of course). And while it seems counterintuitive, movement and exercise have been shown to be extremely helpful for older adults suffering from arthritis. In addition, Pilates strengthens muscles surrounding moveable joints to keep them well supported in the long run.

 

Walking Tall

After the age of 40, most people can lose up to ½-inch of height or more each decade. There are many different factors that contribute to this, such as spinal compression, fallen arches in the feet, loss of bone and muscle mass, or poor posture that gives the appearance of being shorter. 

 

Pilates is famous for improving one’s posture by strengthening the weak muscles and stretching the tight muscles that all contribute to one’s overall posture. It also encourages practitioners to lengthen their spine, promoting decompression of the spongy discs between each vertebra that can get smashed down over time. In seniors especially, we tend to see similar patterns in posture and gait, in particular hunching over (kyphosis) and shuffling the feet to walk. Pilates works to strengthen the back and open up the chest and shoulders to reverse kyphotic posture. In addition, it aims to keep joints in the hips, legs, and feet mobile for proper movement mechanics, and also strengthens the gluteal muscles while stretching the hip flexors to allow for longer strides when walking. In general, the mark of an effective Pilates session is one that leaves practitioners feeling taller, looser, and stronger.

 

Accident Proofing

While Pilates certainly helps reduce the risk of falls or physical accidents that could result in an injury, it also helps with accidents related to incontinence. As with other muscles in the body, the muscles in the pelvis responsible for controlling excretion (called the pelvic floor) weaken over time if not regularly exercised. When done properly, the breathing techniques used in Pilates activate the deepest layers of the abdominal wall which work in tandem with the pelvic floor, strengthening both. Engagement of the pelvic floor is also encouraged to promote pelvic stability during certain Pilates exercises.

 

Feeling Good

Our bodies crave movement, and Pilates delivers movement that is safe, gentle, and low-impact, making it a perfect option for the senior population. The specific breathing techniques used in Pilates help reduce stress, and when combined with repetitive, flowing movement, promote circulation in the body. The endorphins released after a good Pilates session leave practitioners feeling more energized and in good spirits. Most practitioners report feeling better physically and mentally than when they first arrived to the session. Joseph Pilates drew deep connections between the body, mind, and spirit, and Pilates is certainly a boost for all three.

 

Aging

Rael introduces this online two-day Advanced Education Workshop that is near and dear to his heart: The Power of Aging.

The Power of Aging workshop is approved by:

—  The National Pilates Certification Program (NPCP) for 10 CECs.

—  The Pilates Alliance Australasia (PAA) for 10 PDPs.

 

September 11-12, 2021
9am-2pm PDS
REGISTER

November 5-6-12, 2021
3pm-8pm PDS
REGISTER

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BASI LFTL Germany 2021
Featured presenters: Rael Isacowitz, Samantha Wood, Jessie Lee
Date: October 1-3, 2021

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THE POWER OF AGING
with: Rael Isacowitz
Date: November 5-6 (Australia)

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