Pilates Benefits for the Aging and Senior Population
Physical activity and the aging population have become a central focus for the fitness community in recent years. As we continue to live longer and stay active longer into our adulthood, the need for fitness programs catered to the aging body increases.
Why Staying Active as we Age is Important
Keeping fit and staying fit is essential into our later adulthood. During middle and later adulthood, the body changes and requires more care and attention when choosing physical activities.
Unlike the bodies of adolescents and young adults, there are changes that take place within the body that are simply inevitable. Changes in strength, flexibility, bone density, and aerobic capacity will affect the aging population. Not to say that a 65 or 75-year-old cannot be more fit than a 25 or 35-year-old (because there are many that are), but it is a fact that the body will gradually lose muscle mass, become less flexible, and decrease in lung capacity as we age.
Joints and muscles can become more sensitive or bothered by activities that once were no problem. A high-impact, high-intensity workout will not always be the body’s best option. This risk for injury is also greater due to these changes. However, it is important to continue to exercise to maintain our cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, bone density, balance, core strength, muscle strength, and endurance the best we can. For many of these reasons, Pilates is an excellent choice for the aging population.
Why Pilates is Good for Older Adults
Pilates is nearly a perfect activity for seniors and older adults because it does not have the impact on the body that other forms of exercise do, and is not nearly as severe on the joints as most workouts are.
Pilates focuses on building a strong core and focuses on the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine. Many of the exercises are performed in reclining or sitting positions, and most are low impact and partially weight-bearing.
Pilates focuses on movements at the mid-range of the body instead of the extremities (arms and legs), where the potential for injury is greater. In contrast with other forms of exercise, Pilates develops the midrange and gradually works toward the end-range while maintaining complete control around the joints. It also can affect postural positions and increase stability.
All of these attributes positively work with the aging body and focus on the key components seniors and older adults need most in a fitness program: low impact on the joints, core-focused exercises to build a strong center and improve postural alignment, and partial weight-bearing which continues to maintain bone density without the high risk of breaks or fractures.
Pilates also helps with a variety of age-related ailments. Arthritis sufferers benefit because the gentle mid-range movements decrease the chance of joints compressing while maintaining the range of motion around them.
For those who suffer from osteoporosis or stenosis, Pilates can also help. For osteoporosis, simple standing Pilates leg exercises may increase bone density in both the spine and the hip.
For lumbar stenosis, there are exercises that can stretch out tight back muscles and strengthen the extensor muscles of the spine to counteract the forces of gravity that can pull people into a hunched position.
There are many positives to practicing Pilates for older adults and seniors; however, one downside to a Mat class could be the difficulty of getting up and down from the floor.
With a client participating in a one-on-one session, it may be possible to find a padded table (like the Cadillac table) or elevated, safe surface (such as a lifted mat table often used in therapeutic settings) that could be used with adults that have difficulty moving up and down to the floor. If something like this is not available or if you are teaching to a large group where not everyone participating could utilize an adapted surface, it may be best to encourage a one-on-one session with those particular clients so that you are able to better address their specific limitations.
Prescreening Your Senior Clients
As with the average adult population and children, it is imperative to always have the health history, waiver/liability form, and evaluation completed to having older adults or seniors complete a Pilates class. Also, you may find that this population may have a more detailed health history and complex pre-screening.
Any condition, medication, or major limitation that could impact the physical performance of the client in class should be further checked out with the client’s physician and a note should be obtained that releases the client for full participation or participation with specific limitations. This principle of checking with the physician anytime questions arise as to the health of the participant should be applied to all clients in all populations.
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