The Benefits of Pilates and 5 Easy Pilates Exercises for Seniors

A senior woman practicing pilates

If you’re looking to strengthen your body’s core — abdomen, lower back, inner and outer thighs, and so on — as well as maintain, or achieve, good posture, then Pilates is for you.

Pilates has been around since the 1920s, but only entered the fitness mainstream about a decade ago. It’s been gaining popularity ever since. Whether you’re young or old, it’s a great way to improve balance and mobility and strengthen your core. This results in increased control and stability, which are crucial for seniors, and can help them improve much of their functional movement, reduce the risk of falls and maintain an independent lifestyle.

Pilates develops much of what seniors need — strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance and good posture — with a much lower chance of injury than with other forms of exercise. Many of the exercises are performed in reclined or sitting positions, and most are low-impact and partially weight-bearing.

Originally developed by Joseph Pilates, this low-impact exercise aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Pilates moves tend to target the core, although the exercises also work other areas of your body. While some classes incorporate equipment, such as a reformer machine, many of the movements can be done on a mat. There are also chair Pilates exercises for seniors for those who may want to avoid floor exercises.

Benefits of Pilates for Seniors

While wonderful for those of all ages, Pilates has real benefits for seniors in particular. It’s a gentle way to exercise, because it isn’t as severe on the joints as other types of exercise are. It focuses on correct form instead of going for the burn.

A study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found women over 65 who did one-hour Pilates sessions three times per week improved their strength, balance and reaction time after 12 weeks, compared with their Pilates-free peers.

But you don’t have to commit to hour-long Pilates sessions for seniors to see benefits. You can see improvements in strength and stability by doing just 10 to 15 minutes a few times a week. Here are five easy Pilates exercises that are a great place to start. All you’ll need is a mat and a little floor space.

1. Kneeling Rear Leg Raise

Position your body on all fours with your weight evenly distributed between elbows and knees. Gently engage your core and extend your right leg back with toes pointed and hovering slightly above the ground. While keeping the leg straight, lift your leg as high as you can without causing discomfort or arching your back. Lower the leg slowly back down to starting position, and switch legs.

2. Single Straight Leg Stretch

For those who have limited mobility, chair Pilates is a good way to tone and strengthen your legs, butt and abs.

Sit in a chair with good posture. Extend both legs straight out at a little more than a 90-degree angle, with toes pointed and on the ground. Lift the right leg up very slowly. Without lifting the body at all, raise the right leg as high as you can, until it is about parallel with the ground. Breathe in while lifting the leg.

Lower the leg, again very slowly. Breathe out as the leg is lowered. Repeat this step with the right leg 10 times. Then repeat these steps with the left leg.

3. Bent-Arm Plank

Lie on your stomach on the floor with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor. Focus your eyes between your hands. Your legs should be resting behind you, knees hip-width apart (or slightly farther apart for extra balance).

Lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles, and squeeze your upper back, core and glutes. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

To make it easier, hold your plank as long as possible, rest, then repeat until you reach 30 seconds total. Or do the move with your knees on the floor, and lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees.

4. Swimming

Lie on your stomach on the floor with your legs extended behind you, knees hip-width apart. Stretch your arms forward so they’re shoulder-width apart.

Pull your belly button up and in toward your spine as you lift your right arm and left leg off the floor. Your head and chest, if possible, should also lift off the floor, but only lift as far as you comfortably can. Keep your neck neutral, and gaze down on the floor, if that helps. Lower back down and repeat on the opposite side with left arm and right leg extended.

5. Bird Dog

Start on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Engage your core, keep your spine neutral, and gaze down or slightly forward.

Lift your left arm and extend your right leg until they’re in line with the rest of your body. Pause, then lower back down, and repeat on the opposite side with right arm and left leg extended.

To make it easier, keep your hands on the floor, and only extend your leg.

 

Take the first step toward health and wellness by putting yourself in an empowering environment. Meadow Ridge, Connecticut’s premier senior living community, offers seniors an array of healthy activities designed to empower personal pursuit, including multiple Pilates classes. Learn more about how Meadow Ridge supports healthy living and wellness in every dimension.