Pilates and some of it's outstanding benefits for the Older Population

Pilates and it's benefits on the Older Population

For all populations, but especially the older population, keeping fit is essential. However, so many forms of exercise can be hard on the bodies of older adults. Many people participate in Pilates as a way to stay in shape while reducing the risk of injury that weight-bearing exercises may cause. With its focus on controlled breathing and quality of movement-not quantity of repetitions-many experts agree that Pilates is one of the best ways for older adults to stay healthy.

A systematic review by Wells et al. (2012) suggests literature defined Pilates as a ‘mind body exercise focusing on strength, core stability, flexibility, muscle control, posture and breathing.’ Pilates emphasises control of both body position and movement. The authors of this review identified several principles that are commonly found in Pilates, such as ‘Centering’, Concentration, Control, Precision, Flow, and Breathing.

Participation in exercise programs is strongly recommended for older adults since the level of physical fitness directly influences functional independence. A more recent review into the effectiveness of Pilates in older adults (specifically post-menopausal women) by Bergamin et al. (2015) provides several clear and positive outcomes. There was good evidence to display the effectiveness of Pilates on improving strength and sustaining this over long periods, improving dynamic balance, improving flexibility and range of movement as well as improving walking and gait. The authors conclude that Pilates may be valuable as an activity to prevent falls in the elderly for all these listed reasons. There is more support for the value of Pilates improving balance and preventing falls in older adults in the systematic review by Bird et al. (2015).


Pilates & Osteoarthritis

With age, the prevalence and risk of developing Osteoarthritis rises. While relatively few younger people have this condition, from the age of 45 the prevalence rises abruptly. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in Australia. Self-reported estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014–15 National Health Survey illustrate that about 2.1 million Australians (9% of the population) have this condition. Low impact forms of exercise are one of the main recommendations to alleviate pain and increase functionality. Low impact activities such as Pilates can have immense strengthening and toning benefits, bringing muscle balance to affected joints along with increased flexibility and weight loss when needed. The use of controlled, progressive resistance allows for a tailored program, giving the client exactly the amount of challenge necessary and appropriate. Arthritis sufferers benefit because the gentle mid-range movements decrease the chance of joints compressing while maintaining the range of motion around them. These low impact motions will optimise joint range of motion, while still building strength and coordination.

Pilates has also been shown to be a safe form of post-operative rehabilitation after Total Knee and Hip replacement surgeries (Levine et al 2009).


In Summary

Research and Clinical expertise have demonstrated that Pilates helps with a variety of age-related conditions. Arthritis sufferers benefit because the gentle mid-range movements practiced decrease the chance of joints compressing while maintaining the range of motion around them. For sufferers of osteoporosis or stenosis, Pilates can also help. For osteoporosis the simple and standing Pilates leg exercises may increase bone density in both the spine and the hip. For lumbar stenosis there are exercises that can stretch out tight back muscles and strengthen the spine extensor muscles counteracting the forces of gravity that can pull people into a hunched position.

To the benefit of older adults, Pilates teaches control and stability in a small range of motion, graduating to larger range of motion as they gain control and confidence. Increased control and stability is crucial for older adults as it can help them improve much of their functional movement, including balance and posture. As we age, we lose sensory and motor nerve receptors which decrease balance and coordination. Pilates increases strength and flexibility in both the core and the lower extremity, which positively affects balance. This, along with basic fitness benefits, can assist to decrease the risk of falls.



Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 017, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/arthritis-other-musculoskeletal-conditions/osteoarthritis/contents/who-gets-osteoarthritis


Wells C1, Kolt GS, Bialocerkowski A, Complement Ther Med. 2012 Aug;20(4):253-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2012.02.005. Epub 2012 Mar 13. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review.

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22579438


Bergamin M1, Gobbo S2, Bullo V2, Zanotto T2, Vendramin B2, Duregon F2, Cugusi L3, Camozzi V4, Zaccaria M2, Neunhaeuserer D2, Ermolao A2

, Age (Dordr). 2015 Dec;37(6):118. doi: 10.1007/s11357-015-9852-3. Epub 2015 Nov 15.

Effects of a Pilates exercise program on muscle strength, postural control and body composition: results from a pilot study in a group of post-menopausal women.

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26578458


Brett Levine, MS, MD,1 Beth Kaplanek, RN,2 and William L. Jaffe, MD3, Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Jun; 467(6): 1468–1475.

Published online 2009 Mar 13. doi:  10.1007/s11999-009-0779-9


Pilates Training for Use in Rehabilitation after Total Hip and Knee Arthroplasty: A Preliminary Report