Pilates Improves Function in Older Women

It's no secret that we slow down as we get older. We lose a bit of flexibility and strength, it takes longer to recover from an injury, and staying in shape takes more effort. It’s especially challenging, because some of the higher-impact workouts that we can do when we're younger are out of the question when we're older.

Fortunately, research shows that Pilates is a perfect way to stay fit, safely.

In this study, sports medicine researchers from Brazil looked at eighteen women over the age of 60 who had not done any Pilates or strength training in the previous six months. As part of the study, the women took part in mat Pilates class three times a week for six weeks. The women were given six different functional capacity tests at four weeks before the study began, at the beginning of the study, and after six weeks of Pilates.

The study found significant increases in all six functional categories in the women who did mat Pilates. Specifically, they found:

  • Improvements in lower limb dynamic balance, which helps the “elderly ability to move around more safely and to avoid the risk of suffering falls.”
  • Improvements in stair climbing.
  • Improvements in stamina in the “Chair Stand test,” indicating increased strength in hip and knee extensor muscles.
  • Improved flexibility in the lumbar and hip joints.
  • Improved arm and shoulder flexibility. This important, as it helps with basic daily activities, such as “combing the hair, dressing shirts, reaching objects and so on…”

These improvements are especially important for older adults, as maintaining balance, strength, and flexibility helps keep people active and less prone to falls or injury.

The authors conclude:

“Based on the results of this study, six weeks of Mat Pilates training, practiced three times a week for 60 min per session, with three sets and repetitions beginning with six then increasing to eight in the last weeks, seems to be effective to improve significantly the functional capacity in elderly women. These findings are relevant due to the benefits that this type of physical activity can bring to elderly people.”

Bertoli J, Biduski GM, de la Rocha Freitas C. Six weeks of Mat Pilates training are enough to improve functional capacity in elderly women. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 2017 Oct;21(4):1003-1008. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.12.001.