Why Pilates is the Perfect Exercise in Older Age
By Jess Walter
Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash
Two big risk factors associated with aging are falls and pelvic floor disorders. Two and half million seniors are admitted to hospital each year due to falls. Meanwhile, pelvic floor disorders are extremely common in older citizens, particularly women – with over 40 percent of 60 to 69 year-old women affected by pelvic floor problems. The pelvic floor is the set of muscles at the bottom of the abdomen and pelvis which act like a supportive hammock, keeping everything in the pelvis in place. Pilates strengthens the pelvic floor and plays a huge role in developing our core muscles, which in turn improves our balance. The latter helps prevent the likelihood of falls in older adults.
We have discussed the importance of sleep in sustaining good health. Another vital component of staying fit and healthy is exercise, and Pilates is crucial in this respect, with studies showing the long-term improvements in older adults who regularly participate in Pilates.
What is Pilates?
Pilates focuses on developing your core strength through stretching and breathing, squeezing your pelvic floor muscles at the same time. As we get older, pelvic floor muscles are prone to weakening due to lack of exercise, heavy lifting or being overweight. Women are particularly susceptible to pelvic floor problems after giving birth (which contributes to their likelihood of pelvic floor problems later on in life). The weakening of the pelvic muscles has a huge knock-on effect for our whole body, leading to poor posture and more likelihood of pain. Along with balance and core muscle improvement, Pilates promotes good posture. The pelvic floor exercise is done by squeezing in the muscles, as though you are trying to tighten a belt round your waist. This squeezing motion forms the basis of nearly all Pilates stretches.
Effective stretches for core strength:
It is always advisable to learn Pilates stretches with a qualified instructor, to ensure that you are working your pelvic floor muscles and positioning yourself correctly in stretches. Consider joining a class; this has psychological benefits, as well as physical ones. The following two stretches are particularly good for beginners:
- Table top: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your calves straight, like a table. Hold your hands out straight either side of you but just above the ground. Draw in your pelvic muscles and hold the position for ten seconds. Don’t forget to breathe as you do so: in through the nose and out through the mouth. This is forcing your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor to work hard, stopping you from dropping your legs down and your torso from going to one side.
- Seated posture pose: With your hips and pelvis positioned straight and pointing upright (i.e. with no tilt), sit on a chair with your head high; imagine your head being pulled up with a piece of string. Make sure your chin is level and look straight ahead of you. Gently pull your stomach muscles up and in, making sure you keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Focus on some deep, gentle breaths, filling your ribcage and keeping your shoulders down all the time. Remember to think ‘tall’ throughout.
Key points to remember:
Aim to practice Pilates every day, at least one session of 20 minutes. In addition, work your pelvic floor muscles regularly each day, whether it be whilst cleaning your teeth or preparing dinner. Once you make these things part of your daily routine, you will soon start to notice the difference in your balance and overall strength.