Pilates and Aging

Pilates for Aging

As you age, your bodily functions begin to change. You experience a decrease in muscle mass and the functioning of the nervous and muscular systems. The heart rate tends to decline, along with the ability to take in and use oxygen. These changes lead to a reduction in the speed (metabolism) at which the resting body uses fat and other sources to make fuel, leading to increases in body fat. All of these changes – along with bone loss, joint problems, and other medical conditions common to aging – tend to stifle motivation for physical activity. However, avoiding physical activity can make the problems associated with aging worse. An increased risk for injury and a decreased ability to perform activities of daily living eventually begins to compromise quality of life. Fortunately, Pilates is a safe fitness practice that can help counter many of the negative effects of aging.

Incorporating Pilates equipment into an exercise plan can be particularly beneficial for those who have or are at risk for injury, as well as those recovering from surgery. The Reformer is a supine table that allows for the shoulders and feet to be fixed. Springs can be used to increase resistance or provide assistance through a movement. Performing exercises in this position also avoids the jarring and joint compression that accompanies exercising in standing or other unsupported positions. This is particularly important for those with osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. Another piece of equipment called the Cadillac allows the instructor to guide the client in working one area without engaging another. For example, after recovering from hip replacement, this equipment can allow for upper body resistance work, as well as supported lower extremity rehabilitation work.

Prior to beginning any fitness program, it is important to consult a physician. A Pilates instructor will want to review a potential client’s medical history, current medications, and doctor recommendations for accommodating any health conditions. While Pilates is safe for almost anyone at nearly every level of fitness, there are certain conditions or symptoms that must be accommodated or might even be a contradiction to Pilates participation. The instructor will also conduct a fitness assessment that includes measuring the client’s flexibility and strength, as well as assessing balance, joint range of motion, posture, and walking gait. Communicating fitness goals and expectations to the instructor will help him or her design a safe, fun, and challenging program.

Why Use Pilates to Counter the Challenges of Aging?

Pilates is particularly beneficial and appropriate for the older adult for many reasons. It is minimal-impact to no-impact and can be individualized to accommodate specific injuries and physical limitations. It is especially appropriate for maintaining or restoring range of motion and function following injury or operations.

Pilates improves awareness and functioning of the torso, which yields many benefits in performing the activities of daily living such as bending, lifting, sitting, rising, reaching, and many others. It also leads to similar functional improvement and body awareness for other joints.

Another beneficial aspect of Pilates is its ability to improve proprioception, which is the body’s awareness of its place and movement in space. On a practical level for an older individual, this means training the body to better and more efficiently respond to changes, such as regaining or maintaining balance on uneven ground to reduce falls. Increased adaptability and coordination can help decrease the chance of injury from accidents or improper overuse in a particular body movement.

As flexibility, strength, and functional improvements are made, incorporating other forms of fitness such as cardiovascular exercise becomes safer and easier. Complementing a Pilates program with a cardiovascular regimen can be very beneficial to an older adult’s overall health and quality of life.

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