Pilates for the Older Adult

Why Use Pilates?

Pilates is a perfect form of exercise for older adults because it is low impact compared to other forms of exercise, which means it is not as severe on the joints as most workouts. It focuses on breathing and quality-controlled movements, not repetitions.

Conventional workouts focus on how many repetitions you can do and how much weight you can lift, which tends to build short, bulky muscles, which are more prone to injury – especially in older adults.

Pilates works the “Core”, elongates and strengthens the muscles at the same time, which, in turn, improves joint mobility and elasticity. In effect it is a kinder and gentler way to exercise for the older adult who doesn’t need to be beaten down.

How Pilates Works?

“Pilates develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.” – Joseph Pilates.

Pilates is unique in that it systematically exercises all the muscle groups in the body, the weak as well as the strong. The exercises make you stronger, more flexible, and less likely to fall because they re-educate your body to use all of your muscles, not just the superficial ones.

By strengthening both your large muscles and the deep, smaller endurance muscles that are responsible for your strength, they take the strain off the larger muscles and give them added support.

Concentration and correct breathing are added to the exercises to teach you to recruit the smaller, supportive muscles. Bottom line: less pain, greater range of motion, and fewer falls.

How Pilates Helps to Improve Walking Posture, Balance, and Gait Speed?

What does Pilates have to do with walking? Well, let’s first look at how we walk. We stand upright with; hopefully, good posture and then we balance ourselves as we reach out with one leg to take a step shifting our weight onto the forward leg.

Unfortunately, as we age and the core gets weaker we overwork our hip flexors to lift the leg as we walk, these are the muscles that shorten and tighten and, in effect, start to pull us forward until we fall over. Strong abdominal muscles are the key to your body working as a unit.

With Pilates the “Core” or the center of your body is your focus. This is the place from which all motion originates and then proceeds to the extremities, all working in unison not as separate parts. Ultimately every movement, especially walking, should be initiated by first stabilizing the core of the body which involves contracting the deep abdominal muscles.

The Form and Principles involved with Walking directly corresponds to Pilates Principles:

Form is your body’s plumb line: head over shoulders, over hips, over knees, over ankles. It is an aligned body. The goal is to organize the body so that the spine is stable and the abdominal muscles are engaged, the limbs are active and supported, the feet are mobile and the breath is conscious, even and regular. This form will help contribute to an improved, relaxed, and more fluid gait speed while walking.

The bridges to this form include our proprioception, or sense of body in space such as width, length, space, and depth. Without space between the ribs and pubic bone, the belly muscles pooch out rather than remain hollow, activating the superficial rectus abdominis muscles rather than the deeper transversus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles.

Without width in the sacral area, our movement is narrow and becomes constricted; it compresses the sacrum by over engaging the gluteal muscles. This is why most people walk with very narrow constricted steps instead of stretching and reaching forward as they walk.

If your form is currently not in this perfect plumb line it will affect your posture, which, in turn, affects your balance and walking. Pilates exercises helps to correct this unnatural length/tension relationship in the body. In essence, it stretches muscles that are tight and strengthens those that are weak to help realign your body to its natural form.

Pilates Exercises Can and Should be Modified for the Older Adult.

The classwork and apparatus training is very individualized in that all the students can adopt variations and modifications of the exercises to their own abilities. It combines the suppleness and flexibility you find in yoga as well as the strength building you find in weight training in the gym.

Modifications such as using pillows for the head when lying on the back, or using pillows under the pelvis when lying on the stomach can alleviate neck and back pain and tension. If the student has a hard time sitting on the floor they can do the exercises on a raised table or platform.