What Is Pilates & Is It For Older Adults?

Learn the origin story of Pilates & find out if it's a good fit for you

It seems every year there’s a new form of exercise that will “change your life.” With the powers of social media, each one latches on in their own way. But, there is something to be said about practices that have stood the test of time and Pilates is one of them. But what exactly is Pilates and is it for older adults?

How Pilates Got Its Start

German trainer Joseph Pilates invented Pilates in the early 1920s to alleviate some common physical health issues. It is believed that along with helping with physical health, it was initially created for ballet dancers. Joseph Pilates says it is a “complete coordination of body, mind, and spirit.” 

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that Pilates became mainstream. At this time, Yoga was also becoming a popular choice of exercise, especially for celebrities. Yoga focuses on range of motion, flexibility and balance, while Pilates works to strengthen your body, particularly your core muscles—which also improves balance. The two share a commonality of a mind and body connection. 

What Is Pilates?

Pilates is a low-impact exercise focusing on strength to improve posture and flexibility. It is a practice that can be used at any age, no matter what your skill level is, and due to the low impact of Pilates, it is perfect for aging joints. Pilates (if done correctly) balances muscular strength on both sides of your body while stabilizing and strengthening your deep muscles. To get the most benefit from Pilates, it takes precision and control by combining slow, precise movements and controlling your breathing. 

Although Pilates is excellent for a full-body workout, it explicitly targets your entire trunk, including your abdominal area, hips, thighs, and back. Any routine can be tailored or modified based on your comfort and skill level. It is an exercise that EVERYONE can do, and it’s important not to be intimidated by it. If you don’t like redundancy in your workouts, Pilates is a great option to create long, strong muscles and is known to promote positive mental health as the practice works from the inside out, starting with your breathing. 

There are six fundamental principles of Pilates: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow. A Pilates workout resists gravity as you move in a controlled way to stimulate your spine. This whole-body workout increases energy, and combined with healthy eating and cardio activity, can assist with weight loss. If you are apprehensive about exercising, this may change your opinion about fitness. 

Is Pilates Good For Older Adults?

Absolutely. Since it can be modified to any comfort or skill level anyone can do Pilates—at any age! If you suffer from extreme joint and muscle pain, injuries that prevent you from working out, or are in your senior years, a great alternative to traditional Pilates is an adapted form known as seated Chair Pilates. With the already low impact nature of Pilates, paired with the option of sitting on a chair (avoiding having to lay down on the floor), it has been growing in popularity with the senior community to help with their strength, flexibility, and overall physical health.

By adopting gentle Chair Pilates as your workout, you still get the benefits of the practice and keep yourself safe from possible injuries. It is recommended to have a chair with a straight back, where your feet can rest comfortably on the ground. 

Now that you know what pilates is and that it’s a fantastic exercise for older adults… here’s an easy way to try safe seated Chair Pilates to help increase your flexibility and strength. Better5’s Gentle Chair Pilates class has been taken by over 70,000 older adults and is a great start to your exercise journey.