We often underestimate the value of good balance, but this necessary skill helps us navigate many situations in life like climbing stairs, riding a bike or taking a shower.  As we age, our ability to balance begins to wane, but healthy habits like Pilates can help.  Pilates is a whole-body form of exercise that boosts coordination and balance by aligning the spine and pelvis, building muscle strength and improving flexibility.  It was introduced to America in the 1920s by a German physical trainer, Joseph Pilates and has since become a popular method of exercise.

Research on Pilates and Balance

A number of studies have shown the benefits of Pilates for balance.  Research published in the "Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation" examined a group of subjects over the age of 60 who were prescribed either five weeks of regular activity or five weeks of Pilates training.  After completion of the first five-week period, subjects waited six weeks and performed the alternate intervention.  Results showed that participation in the Pilates program resulted in better static and dynamic balance in subjects in comparison to regular activity.

Pilates Exercises for Better Balance

To help build better balance, try three Pilates-based exercises:

Toe Raises:  Toe raises build calf strength and promote better balance.  Stand with heels and calves together and toes positioned slightly outward.  Pull abdominal muscles in and move shoulders back and down.  Lift up onto the balls of the feet, and squeeze the glutes as you come down, but don't bring heels all the way to the floor.  Keep them slightly elevated, and repeat raises for 10 or 15 repetitions.  Then, do repetitions twice as quickly as many times as you can.

Standing Pilates Lunge:  This exercise promotes flexible hips, builds leg strength and improves balance.  Stand with your legs together. Moving the right knee into a deep bend, step the left foot straight back into a lunge.  Keep the hips and toes forward and the back straight.  Rest hands on top of the right thigh if needed.  Straighten the left leg carefully and hold for 30 seconds.  Repeat on the other side.

Standing Leg Circle:  This exercise encourages better balance with an easy gentle motion.  Stand with feet together and arms stretched out to the side.  Putting weight on the left leg, bend the right knee slightly with the toe pointed down.  Sweep the right leg forward, out to the side and back, making a circle.  Return to the bent-knee position, and perform 10 repetitions.  Repeat on the other side.

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Additional Benefits of Pilates

When it comes to healthy habits, Pilates offers many benefits.  In addition to improving balance and coordination, Pilates helps promote:

  • Better posture
  • Quicker rehabilitation from injury
  • Increased lung capacity
  • Enhanced concentration
  • Stress relief
  • Improved fitness and athletic performance

By building control and stability with a smaller range of motion and progressing to a larger range of motion, Pilates is the perfect exercise for older adults.  Although the impact of Pilates is gentler on the body than other forms of exercise, elderly people should always consult with a health care provider before beginning any exercise regimen.