Pilates as a discipline has been around for over a hundred years. It was developed by Joseph Pilates, a German born gymnast and bodybuilder who moved to England in 1912. With the onset of the First World War in 1914, he was arrested and interned first at Lancaster Castle before being moved to Knockaloe internment camp on the Isle of Man. Pilates’ firm belief was that mental and physical health are closely connected. Born a sickly child, suffering from asthma, rickets and the then potentially fatal rheumatic fever, his father introduced him at an early age to gymnastics, body building, boxing and martial arts such as jiu-jitsu to build up his strength and stamina.
Pilates dedicated his entire life to maintaining and improving his physical strength and was not going to let a period of internment impact negatively on his physical and mental fitness levels. Whilst interned, Pilates devised a series of exercises and techniques not just for himself but also for his fellow internees, insisting they participated each day and improving general health conditions as a result. For injured soldiers too weak to get out of bed, he created “resistance training” equipment by removing springs from mattresses and attaching them to bed footboards or headboards to facilitate exercise and rehabilitation for bedridden internees.
It is these self-same techniques and exercises performed either on mats or equipment slightly more refined since those days of his internment which still form the basis of Pilates as we know it today.
Joseph Pilates was, by his own admission, an adamant believer in the “complete coordination of body, mind and spirit”. This is why breathing is such a fundamental discipline to Pilates: breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth and attuning yourself with your body as you do so. Pilates is not about pushing yourself into uncomfortable, strained positions: it entails anaerobic exercises developed to strengthen muscles and increase flexibility. If it hurts, stop!
It is undoubtedly one of the gentlest and most relaxing ways to improve energy and fitness levels whilst toning muscles and joints at the same time. As such, Pilates is accessible and adaptable for all ages: attending a class post 50 is therefore clearly not an indication of “being over the hill”!
So let’s have a look now at the benefits to be accrued from practising Pilates post-50.
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Benefits of Pilates for Over 50’s
1. Low Impact
Each and every exercise is devised to improve balance, flexibility, stability and posture without exerting strain on muscles and joints. Whilst few of the benefits have been subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny, there are a growing number of GPs who suggest Pilates as an option for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and non-specific back pain and there is indeed some evidence to indicate it may help. The NHS is however keen to point out that for any of the exercises in Pilates to be effective, they need to be tailored to the individual and vetted by an appropriately qualified health professional. Whilst the best Pilates practitioners will have undergone rigorous training, it is important to be aware that teachers are neither medically qualified nor do they have the jurisdiction to prescribe medication, treat conditions or offer therapy.
2. Mood Booster
With chronic pain a serious contributory factor to low mood, finding active ways to counteract pain and enhance fitness levels can improve mental health and wellbeing too. Any form of exercise prompts the body to produce chemicals known as endorphins which can have hugely positive effects not just in respect of reducing perception of pain but also in terms of boosting mood. With the occurrence of injury negligible in Pilates, it is an exercise well worth considering if you are subject to periods of feeling “down”.
3. Complements Other Physical Activities
Combined with a healthy diet and other exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling, Pilates can help you lose weight. This is because of the muscle strengthening activities it entails. That said, practising Pilates is in no way comparable to stringent work-outs at the gym: far from it. Whilst Pilates has elite athletes and dancers as proponents and adherents, it is strictly non-competitive: you don’t have to be fit at the outset and you’re not setting out to beat someone else or your own personal best. Pilates is about reconnecting with your body, working out its strengths and weaknesses and finding exercises that help rebuild your body and thereby your everyday confidence.
Joseph Pilates reputedly said: “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it’s completely flexible at 60, you are young”.
Undoubtedly, Pilates can be a rigorous regime but it is both fulfilling and relaxing at one and the same time. As such it is ideal for those of us over 50, no longer as fit and flexible as we perhaps used to be but wanting to look after ourselves and nurture our bodies as we begin to age.
4. At-Home, Classes, or Private Coaching
Whilst Pilates is an exercise regime that can be practised safely in the home, attending a class opens the opportunity to meet new like-minded people and make new friends. It also gives a routine and purpose to the day, getting you up and out and having different conversations with others. A warm Pilates’ studio can be particularly attractive on a grey day and its propensity to leave you feeling chilled and relaxed post exercise has got to be infinitely preferable to a sweaty work-out in the gym or a lonesome run on a cold wet morning.
For those post 50s who like a bit of a “treat” at the end of any activity, Pilates also lends itself ideally to trip to your local favourite coffee shop once your exercise is complete for the day!
Give Pilates a Go!
We hope the above has given you a bit of insight into the history behind Pilates and the benefits it can offer those of us post 50. As with any new exercise regime, if you have any underlying health conditions, concerns or injuries, do please speak to your medical practitioner first before embarking on Pilates.
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