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The benefits of doing Pilates

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How Pilates can help your body and mind

Pilates has become more and more popular in recent years. The benefits from doing Pilates are becoming better known and it’s now a form of exercise not only popular with dancers or people who also like yoga but rather a sport for anyone wanting to get to know their body better and build up their physical fitness, as well as inner strength.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is named after its creator, Joseph Pilates, who developed the exercises in the 1920s with the aim to build strength in the core muscles for better posture, balance, and flexibility.1 It consists of different moves than yoga, but is often likened to it. Perhaps due to the focus on the core and the fact that both disciplines also put an emphasis on controlled breathing. The  principles of Pilates are built on the health benefits of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow.

What is the difference between Pilates and yoga?

As we’ve already seen, Pilates and yoga do have certain elements in common. They each aim to develop strength, balance, flexibility, posture, and good breathing technique. The connection between physical and mental health is the center of both practices.

That being said, they also have some distinct differences. Yoga includes meditation and features static poses – neither of which are used in Pilates, which focuses on the flow of movement, rather than holding static poses. Yoga also requires no equipment other than a mat. Pilates can be performed on a mat only, but it’s more common to use additional equipment, such as a ring, ball, bands or reformer.

A study conducted to investigate and compare the effects of Pilates and yoga2 confirmed that both disciplines showed benefits on physical as well as mental health through the improvement of posture, flexibility, muscle tone, and stress reduction – although Pilates did show the greatest improvement. The study was formed of ninety volunteers – females and males, healthy and without any disease or physical limitation, between the ages 30 and 40. They were split into three groups doing Pilates, yoga, and no exercise at all. After eight weeks, in which the participants exercised for one hour three times per week, the study revealed that the group practicing Pilates showed the greatest improvements in functional movement and individual health level.

A further study on elderly women (65+ years) showed that age is not a barrier to increasing your physical abilities by doing Pilates3 and that improvement of dynamic balance, reaction time and muscle strength could all be attributed to Pilates’ exercises. The study also claimed that increasing these fitness parameters through Pilates exercises may reduce the number of falls in elderly women.

Is Pilates for me?

Are you considering joining a Pilates class or practicing Pilates at home? Everyone can benefit from Pilates, since it is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and the exercises can be tailored to individual needs. There are different classes and experience levels of Pilates – from gentle and slow for beginners to a more dynamic, or solid workout. We would encourage you to give it a go, but always recommend people with a health condition to talk to their doctor or instructor first.

Do I need equipment for Pilates?

There are two types of Pilates: mat-based and equipment-based Pilates, but many exercises can be done on the floor with a mat only. It might be worth trying out both types to see which you prefer – you could try mat-based Pilates with a free workout video for staying active at home and equipment-based Pilates in a class with an instructor, for example. There’s another specialist type of Pilates, called reformer Pilates. This is done on a large bed-like frame with a flat platform on it, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame and is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs. It’s great for working out the entire body.

Health benefits of doing Pilates

There are many physical and mental health benefits associated with Pilates, which range from improved movement and posture through to a reduction in stress levels. These are explained in more depth below:

Improved core strength and stability

A study by The Mayo Clinic concluded that Pilates can increase the range of motion for the joints and help muscle control, strength, and endurance.4 It was deemed an excellent choice for all ages and levels of fitness as it can be adapted to provide a gentle strength training and stability program, or modified to give a more experienced athlete a more challenging workout.

Improved posture, balance and flexibility

In a further study by the Mayo Clinic,1 Pilates was also shown to be an accessible way to build strength in your core muscles for better posture, balance and flexibility. According to findings published in the Muscle, Ligaments and Tendons Journal, Pilates practices proper posture and movement patterns.4 The findings discussed how current research indicates that there may be benefits to applying Pilates-based exercises in certain clinical populations and suggested that further documentation should be produced to demonstrate the application and success of Pilates in a wider variety of training and rehabilitation settings. 

Prevention and treatment of back pain

The prevention and treatment of lower back pain is an additional benefit of practicing Pilates as it utilizes the principles of various accepted rehabilitation methods that have scientific support for low back pain, including core strengthening.7

Stress reduction

As well as the physical benefits, Pilates can be beneficial for mental health as well5 with practitioners saying that regular Pilates can improve posture, muscle tone, balance and joint mobility, as well as relieve stress and tension. 

Benefit from Pilates

Pilates is an excellent option for men and women of all ages and fitness level, to improve balance, posture and flexibility, as well as to reduce stress levels and improve mental wellbeing. It can be done within your own home, or with the assistance of a class-based Pilates teacher, so why not give it a go?

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