Intro to Pilates for Seniors

An Introduction to Pilates for Seniors

Have you been hearing about the benefits of Pilates lately? You’re not alone. Pilates is growing in popularity as more and more people of all ages, shapes, and sizes embark on a Pilates practice. The method is known for building a strong core, or mid-section, but when done consistently and correctly, it’s a whole-body exercise system. If you’re a senior, you’ll find that Pilates is an excellent way to improve mobility, flexibility, strength, and range of motion, just to name some of the benefits. If you are already active, you will also benefit from the functional conditioning Pilates provides. The same exercises that are great for posture, balance, and coordination can also level up your golf game or make you faster in the pool.

Benefits of Pilates for Seniors

Pilates is an effective mode of exercise that combats the natural decrease in muscle mass and strength associated with age. Maintaining or increasing strength as one ages has numerous benefits including increased bone density, increased muscle mass, and improved balance. All of these contribute to the quality of life and the ability to continue performing everyday activities that we take for granted.

Strength on its own isn’t sufficient enough for life’s requirements of twists, turns, reaching, bending, carrying or getting up and down. Pilates exercises contain the ideal formula for improving flexibility due to its connection to breath and its precise slow controlled movements. Pilates is not a static workout, but rather it keeps moving- transitioning between exercises to develop the smaller muscle groups as well as longer leaner muscles.

Pilates also improves balance, making it an ideal form of exercise for seniors. Acquiring and maintaining good balance prevents falls, injury, and the loss of independence that often follows. Practicing Pilates two to three times per week improves posture, strength, and body awareness, all of which go a long way towards living confidently and independently for many years to come.

Pilates is especially beneficial if you are dealing with some of the special conditions that affect seniors. For example, a customized Pilates regime improves muscle and bone strength, helping to prevent loss of bone mass and even reversing the effects of Osteoporosis. Pilates can play a role in breast cancer recovery, too, not only in terms of physiological benefits, but because it can help boost self-esteem, confidence, and an overall sense of well-being. Those with arthritis may find that Pilates can improve joint mobility and ease stiffness.

How to Get Started

To start a Pilates program, find a local studio for private sessions or group classes, or subscribe to a video-on-demand subscription service like Pilates Anytime, which offers thousands of classes including specialized programs for Baby Boomers and seniors. Pilates is an accessible form of exercise, offering myriad modifications to help you progress and gain confidence.

To start, look for a fundamental or “Pre-Pilates” routine, designed to break down the components of the method into simple elements that recur in many different exercises. These movements include rounding or flattening the spine, tipping the tailbone up and down, or firming the seat. Ideally, choose an instructor with experience in teaching special populations including seniors or those with osteoporosis.

As you would before starting any exercise program, consult with your doctor prior to starting Pilates. Make sure he or she feels it is appropriate for you. If you feel any pain or discomfort while practicing, stop. Employ a modification or limit the range of motion. Finally, if pain, tightness, or swelling persists, call your doctor.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What if I can't get up from the floor?

If you have trouble sitting up from a supine position (lying on the back), roll onto your side and use your arms and hands to push yourself up to a seated position, as you would when getting out of bed.

What if I can't sit up straight?

If you feel your lower back rounding despite your best efforts, try bending the knees slightly. Another option is to prop yourself up on a firm pillow, a yoga block, or even a stack of books.

What if lifting my head strains my neck?

If you cannot lift your head off the floor, as in an ab curl or “crunch,” use your hands to support the back of your head until your neck and abdominal muscles get stronger. Alternatively, you can place a small towel (such as a hand towel) lengthwise on the Mat under your back, shoulders, and head. Hold the top corners with your fingers to create a hammock shape. Lift the elbows slightly off the floor and keep the head relaxed into the towel. As you gain strength, you can start to relax your grip on the towel.

What if I can't put pressure on my wrists?

If you have delicate wrists, roll up the edge of your mat to create a small ledge or lift for your palm (or invest in a foam wedge designed for just this purpose). In the plank position (the top of a push-up), try using fists instead of the flat part of your hands, or come down to your forearms instead. In side-lying leg work, instead of propping your head on your bottom hand, lie down with your bottom arm outstretched so the head rests on the inner upper arm. (This position can also be more comfortable for people with neck injuries.)

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