The Health Benefits of Pilates
Pilates is an exercise method that has been developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, a German trainer with a gymnastics and bodybuilding background.
Pilates emphasizes strengthening the core muscles, improving balance, and breathing. Practicing Pilates regularly provides you with many health benefits. Here the top 7:
#1 Pilates can improve heart health
A clinical trial with obese, sedentary women showed that Pilates can help to improve heart health. The trial lasted 12 weeks and consisted of three 1-hour training sessions per week. All classes were led by a certified Pilates instructor.
The participants of the trial reduced systolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg and were able to lose up to 2% body fat. (1)
#2 Pilates can prevent back pain
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC low pain is a condition that affects almost every person at one point in their life and is a commonly reported reason for lost workdays. (2)
Strong and balanced core muscles can help to prevent or improve low back pain. The “core” is generally defined as a group of muscles consisting of the lumbopelvic region, the hips, the abdomen, and the lower back.
All core muscles are essential in stabilizing the spine. However, the proper activation of transverse abdominus (TVA) seems to be especially crucial for back health. The TVA is a muscle layer of the anterior and lateral abdominal wall. Research suggests that Pilates is an excellent workout to strengthen the transverse abdominus. (3)
#3 Pilates can help to improve muscles imbalances
Muscle imbalances can increase the risk of back pain and other muscular-skeletal conditions. According to a Spanish study, practicing Pilates twice a week for 9 months can help to reinforce the muscles of the abdominal wall and thus to eliminate muscle imbalances in the abdominal region. (4)
#4 Pilates can improve overall health and well-being
Pilates is an excellent way to prevent muscular skeletal diseases, but also to improve overall well-being.
A study published in the Indian Journal of Palliat Care showed that practicing Pilates 3 times per week for 6 weeks helps to improve chronic low back pain while increasing general health at the same time. (5)
#5 Pilates can improve balance and fall prevention
Pilates can help to build strength and stability of the lower body. Strong hip, leg and core muscles are essential to prevent falls.
Apart from that, Pilates is an excellent way to train balance and to improve posture. According to a study with older individuals, a 5-week program can help to improve balance, posture, dynamic balance, and strength for up to 12 months after participation. (6)
#6 Pilates can improve mental health
Exercise releases calming or mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, or endorphins.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter than increases our feelings of well-being and happiness. Apart from that, it improves our sleep cycle and helps us to relax.
Dopamine improves memory, mood, motivation, and attention. It is released when eating delicious food, having sex, or when exercising.
Endorphins are not only improving our mood, but they also help the nervous system to cope with stress and pain.
Apart from that, learning and mastering new (complex) movements help to prevent cognitive decline.
#7 Pilates can help to combat stress
Chronic stress is the underlying cause of many health issues, including headache, insomnia, high blood pressure, weight gain, or diabetes.
Low impact exercises such as Pilates or Yoga can help to release stress and lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Apart from that, Pilates practice includes breathing exercises, can improve mindfulness, and increase body awareness. All three elements have been linked to stress reduction.
What about weight loss?
An hourlong Pilates session can burn anywhere from 200–400 calories depending on your weight and the intensity of the session. While this relatively low compared with HIIT or running, Pilates can support weight loss in other ways:
- Numerous studies have shown that stress can make you gain weight. Pilates can combat stress and thus prevent stress-induced weight loss.
- Pilates can help you to build muscles. Lean body mass burns more energy than fat mass: a pound of muscles burns up 6.5 calories per hour, while fatty tissues only burn 1.2 calories.
In good health,
A word of warning: please check in with your healthcare provider before starting a (new) exercise program if you suffer from any chronic condition or are recovering from a sports injury.
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(1) Pilates Tied to Improved CV Health in Young Obese Women — Medscape — Apr 07, 2020
(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of disabilities and associated health conditions among adults-United States, 1999. JAMA. 2001;285(12):1571–1572.
(3) Cruz-Díaz D, Bergamin M, Gobbo S, Martínez-Amat A, Hita-Contreras F. Comparative effects of 12 weeks of equipment based and mat Pilates in patients with Chronic Low Back Pain on pain, function and transversus abdominis activation. A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2017;33:72–77. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2017.06.004
(4) Dorado C, Calbet JA, Lopez-Gordillo A, Alayon S, Sanchis-Moysi J. Marked effects of Pilates on the abdominal muscles: a longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(8):1589–1594. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e31824fb6ae
(5) Hasanpour-Dehkordi A, Dehghani A, Solati K. A Comparison of the Effects of Pilates and McKenzie Training on Pain and General Health in Men with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Trial. Indian J Palliat Care. 2017;23(1):36–40. doi:10.4103/0973–1075.197945
(6) Bird ML, Fell J. Positive long-term effects of Pilates exercise on the aged-related decline in balance and strength in older, community-dwelling men and women. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2014 Jul;22(3):342–347. DOI: 10.1123/japa.2013–0006.