Is Pilates Good Exercise for Seniors?



Question: Is Pilates Good Exercise for Seniors?
Answer: The short answer is yes, Pilates is generally appropriate for senior fitness, and it is gaining popularity among senior citizens. The ability to modify exercises to meet differing needs, along with the many benefits of the Pilates method, such as increased levels of strength, balance, flexibility, muscle tone, stamina, and well being, make Pilates an inviting senior exercise program. After all, Joseph Pilates practiced his method into his eighties.

What is Pilates?
Pilates Information for Beginners

Classes for Seniors

It is possible to learn Pilates from online instruction, videos, and books. However, I recommend starting out in a group or private class with a certified Pilates instructor.

As Pilates becomes an integral part of the fitness world, Pilates classes specifically for seniors are becoming more common. They can be found at senior centers, Pilates studios, gyms and YMCAs. If an age-specific class is not available, many seniors will find that regular beginner classes are welcoming and level appropriate. A good instructor will offer cues for exercise modifications, and most classes are small enough that some individual instruction can be expected.

Another option for the senior student is to begin with private classes. Private instruction is offered at most Pilates studios. This will insure a good foundation in the basic movement principles of Pilates, and make it easier for an instructor to tailor modifications to a students needs.

Mat or Reformer Classes?

Mat and reformer are the two most common types of Pilates classes that people begin with. Either one will be beneficial for the senior student. A Pilates mat class is comprised of exercises done on a mat on the floor, without any special equipment. However, smaller pieces of Pilates equipment, such as the magic circle or exercise band, may be incorporated into a mat class. Mat classes offer the benefit of teaching exercises that can easily be practiced at home.

The Pilates reformer, sometimes known as a Pilates machine, is a large piece of exercise equipment. A combination of springs set at different tensions, and a student’s own body weight, create resistance during the exercises. The resistance that the reformer provides adds a weight bearing component to the reformer workout, beyond what the mat exercises offer.

Special Considerations for Seniors

Before beginning a Pilates class, the senior student would be well advised to check in with his or her health care professional. Many physical conditions can be accommodated in a Pilates setting, but it is important to know if any specific risk factors are present. It is essential to communicate health issues or physical limitations to the instructor before the class begins.

Many older adults find that their balance, flexibility and endurance have diminished over time. These conditions are workable within most beginner Pilates contexts, and they will improve as Pilates is practiced regularly. Seniors can be assured that it is the right and responsibility of any student to adjust participation in an exercise to a level that feels healthful and safe for them. Various exercise modifications are commonplace in Pilates classes. A good instructor will help a senior student monitor the level of exertion, and take measures to prevent over-stretching or falls. Seniors might be encouraged to know that the majority of beginner Pilates mat and reformer exercises are done lying down or sitting, so there is less risk of falling than there might be with some other forms of exercise.

Osteoporosis is a special concern for seniors in Pilates, as it is with many fitness systems. Osteoporosis is a weakening of the structure of the bone, which makes those who have it more susceptible to broken bones and fractures. Anyone at risk of osteoporosis, a category which does include seniors over 65 (both men and women), should get a bone density scan before proceeding with Pilates practice.

Weight bearing exercises, such as many Pilates exercises, are often recommended as part of bone building programs to prevent osteoporosis. However, once the condition is present in the bones, the fitness scenario changes considerably. The reason is that exceptional balance challenges, some weight bearing exercises, forward flexion (bending), and certain twisting exercises — all part of regular Pilates practice — are not recommended for people with osteoporosis. Does that mean they can’t do Pilates? No. It does mean, however, that the workout has to be designed keeping osteoporosis in mind and should be lead by a qualified Pilates instructor.

The outlook for seniors in Pilates is good. Pilates is growing, as is the number of seniors interested in it. This will increase demand for senior instruction, and more books, videos and support systems for seniors should follow.

Pilates Equipment – Terms
  • Fitness Ball
  • Magic Circle
  • Exercise Bands
Get Started with Pilates Exercises
  • Exercise Modification Tips
  • Pilates Warm-up/Centering Set
  • Beginner Pilates Exercises
Related Articles

Active Ageing

Active ageing…if you are over 40 and think that keeping fit is just for young folk then think again!  Keeping fit and active will help you to feel fantastic at 40, fabulous at 50, stupendous at 60, stunning at 70 and ever so independent at 80 and beyond! 

Active Ageing is about staying active, keeping healthy and maintaining your independence no matter how old you are.  As we get older our muscles become less elastic, we feel stiff if we sit down for long periods of time – and first thing in the morning when we wake up; ordinary, everyday tasks become tougher – carrying the shopping, pushing the vacuum or lawnmower, reaching up to pick things off shelves and soon we start to feel ‘old’. It doesn’t have to be that way – we can combat it. 

Activities such as Pilates will help to keep you flexible and keep joints mobile, and the more advanced Pilates classes like hard core will help keep you toned and trim; while the hi-energy classes like Fabulates and Hi-Lo Circuits will help keep your cardiovascular fitness up while strengthening and toning but WON’T impact heavily on knees and ankles. 

What are you waiting for?  Talk to me today and don’t get old, get active!

Chair-based exercise…
even if you are less mobile you can still exercise and maintain a positive and healthy approach to life with creative chair-based exercise routines that increase your muscle strength, flexibility and coordination. Less mobile doesn’t just mean old, either! What about those recovering from illness or injury?  

Just because we call it chair based exercise doesn’t mean it’s going to happen sitting in a chair!   What about increasing the challenge by exercising whilst sitting on a fitball?  See if you can do it without laughing! Exercise of any kind will release chemicals into the body that make us feel happier and if we are happier then we are fitter!


More and more active aging exercisers are turning to Pilates to help increase circulation, strengthen posture and improve ability and agility. Find out why Pilates is beneficial at any age.

The American Council on Exercise reports there has been an increase in specialized fitness programming for older adults over the past few years. A well-balanced fitness program offers many benefits for seniors because it conditions muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to help fight osteoarthritis and osteoporosis; keeps the body more limber; stabilizes joints; and lowers the risk of everyday injury. Physical activity helps enhance overall quality of life, increase life expectancy, and helps older adults stay independent.

As lifelong exercisers age, they find they can’t hit a tennis ball or golf ball as hard, run as fast, lift as heavy, or perform as well, whatever their sport. Pilates is a mind-body system that emphasizes controlled movements and conscious breathing patterns – which enables participants to increase their form and function. This gentle activity provides many benefits that not only attend to some physical concerns of aging, but also help clients achieve greater well-being and self-esteem through their golden years. As a low-impact exercise with strengthening and flexibility benefits, Pilates is an ideal exercise program for seniors. It includes exercises that target every muscle in the human body.

Aging adults may experience numerous concerns with their bodies. Pilates can help address many of these issues. For instance, this type of exercise can combat loss of muscular strength and endurance without putting undo stress on the joints. Touted for their core benefits, most Pilates movements focus on strengthening the deep stabilizing muscles of the torso, helping to prevent back strain and maintain good posture. In addition, the joints often become less stable with age. Pilates helps maintain stability by strengthening the deep support muscles of the joints, allowing people to do more dynamic activities such as walking, stair climbing or tennis.

Individuals who walk with assistance as well as those confined to wheelchairs can obtain dramatic benefits from a specialized exercise regimen with a series of programs specifically designed for those who may not be able to lay down on a mat or on other Pilates equipment, called Armchair Pilates. Working together, we can bridge the gap between the rehab, active aging and fitness communities to reach an immense number of individuals who otherwise would not realize their movement potential.

Regardless of the reason for someone’s mobility challenges, there are hundreds of exercises that can be advantageous from a seated position. In many cases, participants will notice changes right away in their strength and mobility. With Armchair Pilates, movements are performed with or without the assistance of resistance bands or small weights. Small props can help participants and instructors simulate many of the exercises normally done on traditional Pilates equipment with springs. The idea is to encourage ideal posture that works the all-important core muscles, and then work towards strengthening and lengthening the rest of the body as necessary.

This approach to exercise is based on the Five Basic Principles:

  • breathing
  • pelvic placement
  • rib cage placement
  • scapular movement and stabilization
  • head and cervical placement

These techniques are essential for helping participants realize their goals. They encourage greater body awareness and work together to create a safe, effective foundation for Pilates exercise. As a result, clients perform individual movements more efficiently and achieve the maximum benefits from each exercise. Finally, the principles provide the backbone for functionality in everyday life.


Many people are unaware of their breathing patterns and tend to breathe in a shallow manner. Breathing more deeply, particularly during Pilates, fully oxygenates the blood, helps prevent unnecessary tension, activates the deep stabilizing muscles of the torso, and helps focus the mind on what the body is doing. Breathing into the lower lobes of the lungs increases power as the exercise below demonstrates.


Back pain and strain and postural problems become more common with age. Pilates can help minimize back pain and achieve optimal posture, while maintaining the natural curves of the spine. The position of the pelvis dictates the position of the lower back. Being able to support the pelvis in a neutral position keeps strain off the lower back. Furthermore, it takes abdominal strength to move away from neutral as the spine bends, and to return to this position.


Losing strength in the upper middle back (thoracic spine) can worsen lower back or neck tension, as the rib cage position directly affects the spine. Quite often the rib cage will lift up as an individual tries to sit tall or raise an arm. This flattens out the thoracic spine. Alternatively, the rib cage may drop down and give the appearance of an excessive curve in the upper middle back. When sitting or standing, it is best to have the rib cage directly above the pelvis.


As the shoulder blades move with the arms, stability is important. Weakened muscles in the shoulder blade area can easily lead to neck and shoulder tension. Also, if the shoulder blades become rigid and lack mobility, pressure can build up into the shoulder joints, leading to pain and inflammation.


Ideally, the neck (cervical spine) should hold its natural curve, with the head balanced directly above the shoulders when sitting in a neutral position. Excessive bending and rotation of the neck in any direction can put stress on the joints and lead to neck problems.


Performing gentle exercises correctly on a regular basis (three times per week is recommended) can help improve the circulatory system through movement, improve postural strength, increase musculoskeletal strength and joint range of motion, and maintain functional ability. Pilates also connects the mind and body. Combined, these benefits make Pilates an ideal form of exercise for older adults.

Pilates is growing within the Active Aging Community as one of the most popular exercise programs of choice for many reasons. Pilates allows exercisers to move within their limitations and can be adapted to enhance anyone’s current training routine. It is a form of exercise for all ages and stages and is a kinder, gentler exercise for the body with all of the benefits of strength and flexibility training. As a result, more and more facility owners within the active aging community are choosing to incorporate Pilates classes into their fitness programs and/or build a studio on their premises.The STOTT PILATES Active for Life Program was designed to assist facility owners and fitness instructors implement or enhance a Pilates program geared towards the active aging population. This specialty track program includes workshops that provide instruction in Pilates essentials as well as those designed particularly for an older audience.  

Five Tips for Starting a Successful Pilates Program for the Active Aging at Your Facility

  1. Determine the space. Small Pilates studios can start from 200-300 sq ft. for private training or semi-private classes. Small group Reformer training will require at least 400 sq ft. to house four Reformers. A Pilates Matwork program can be offered in any group fitness studio.
  1. Consider a Basic Matwork Program. Mats are easy to store and maneuver – and may be useful for other fitness classes as well. Matwork can be done with a variety of light equipment or props including the Flex-Band®, Stability Balls, the Mini Stability Ball™ and Toning Balls all of which provide the additional benefits of assisting with balance, strength and flexibility while still being easy on the joints, an important consideration for any active aging exercise program. Consider the STOTT PILATES Active for Life Program for your facility, which includes innovative programming for the active aging.
  1. Choose qualified instructors that are properly trained in Pilates, and in particular, in dealing with older clients with potential movement and/or mobility issues. If you already have qualified fitness staff at your facility, you can host a STOTT PILATES certification course or workshop at your facility to bring their skills up-to-speed. Otherwise, you can locate instructors by using the STOTT PILATES Instructor Finder in your area or post the teaching position on the STOTT PILATES Job Board.
  1. Invest in Pilates equipment. Even though Pilates equipment may look intimidating at first, there are several benefits to incorporating into your Pilates program. The equipment supports and assists the client while learning the intricacies of Pilates. Equipment-based Pilates also includes more full-body work than Pilates Matwork which can place more focus on the arms and legs as well as the core musculature. Equipment recommendations for first-time Pilates owners include: Rehab Reformers (they are higher off the ground for for those with mobility issues ); the innovative V2 Max Plus™ Rehab Reformer (which offers a plethora of programming options and versatile exercises) or Spilt-Pedal Stability Chairs.
  1. Contact someone from the industry who knows how to build a successful Pilates business.
    If you are unfamiliar with Pilates in general, or if you want to expand your current mind-body space, speak to our STOTT PILATES Full Solutions™ business consultants for the best advice possible to make your venture a success. Our Full Solutions team, a group of seasoned fitness industry professionals, work with countless facilities big and small to help implement and run strong, profitable Pilates programs. They provide a customized ROI analysis and one-on-one expert advice on everything from staffing, programming options and strategic marketing to equipment and studio layout scenarios.

For more information on how to build a successful Pilates business at your facility, to host Pilates classes or courses, or to find out about STOTT PILATES’ new Active For Life Program, email fullsolutions@stottpilates.com

Pilates (or the Pilates method) is a series of over 500 mat or equipment based exercises inspired by calisthenics, yoga and ballet. Pilates improves flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness. It was introduced into America in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph Pilates as a way to help injured athletes and dancers safely return to exercise and maintain their fitness. Since then, Pilates has been adapted to suit people in the general community.

Pilates can be an aerobic and non-aerobic form of exercise. It requires concentration and focus, because the body is moved through precise ranges of motion. Always consult your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or have not exercised in a long time.

Benefits of Pilates

Some of the benefits of Pilates include:

  • Improved flexibility.
  • Increased muscle strength, particularly of the abdominal muscles, lower back, hips and buttocks (the ‘core muscles’ of the body).
  • Balanced muscular strength on both sides of the body.
  • Enhanced muscular control of the back and limbs.
  • Improved stabilisation of the spine.
  • Greater awareness of posture.
  • Improved physical coordination and balance.
  • Relaxation of the shoulders, neck and upper back.
  • Safe rehabilitation of joint and spinal injuries.
  • Helps prevent musculoskeletal injuries.

Pilates caters for everyone

Pilates caters for everyone, from the beginner to the advanced. You can perform exercises using your own body weight, or with the aid of various pieces of equipment.

A typical Pilates workout includes a number of exercises and stretches with sessions lasting up to 45 to 90 minutes. Each exercise is performed with attention to proper breathing techniques and abdominal muscle control. To gain the maximum benefit, you should do Pilates at least two or three times per week. You may notice postural improvements after 10 to 20 sessions.

Pilates challenges the body

Pilates is partly inspired by yoga, but is different in one key respect – yoga is made up of a series of static postures, while Pilates is based on putting yourself into unstable postures and challenging your body by moving the limbs.

For instance, imagine you are lying on your back, with bent knees and both feet on the floor. A Pilates exercise may involve straightening one leg so that your toes point to the ceiling, and using the other leg to slowly raise and lower your body. You need tight abdominal and buttock muscles to keep your hips square, and focused attention to stop yourself from tipping over.

Two forms of Pilates

The two basic forms of Pilates include:

  • Mat-based Pilates – this is a series of exercises performed on the floor using gravity and your own body weight to provide the resistance. The central aim is to condition the deeper, supporting muscles of the body to improve posture, balance and coordination.
  • Equipment-based Pilates – this includes specific equipment that works against spring-loaded resistance, including the ‘reformer’, which is a moveable carriage that you push and pull along its tracks. Some forms of Pilates include weights (such as dumbbells) and other small types of equipment that offer resistance to the muscles.

Quality is everything

Pilates consists of moving through a slow, sustained series of exercises using abdominal control and proper breathing. The quality of each posture is important, not the number of repetitions or how energetically you can move.

Books and videotapes are available, but seek instruction from a qualified Pilates method teacher or Pilates-trained physiotherapist to get the best results.

General cautions

Although Pilates is a low impact form of exercise, certain people should seek medical advice before embarking on a new program, including:

  • Following recent surgery
  • Pregnant women
  • People aged 40 years or more
  • People with a pre-existing medical condition such as heart disease
  • People with pre-existing musculoskeletal injuries or disorders
  • Anyone who has not exercised for a long time
  • Those who are very overweight or obese.

Where to get help

Things to remember

Pilates (or the Pilates method) is a series of mat and equipment based exercises that improve flexibility, strength, balance and body awareness.
Benefits of Pilates can include improved posture and increased flexibility, strength, coordination and balance.
You can perform exercises using your own body weight, or with the aid of various pieces of equipment.

active aging

It’s hard to ignore all of the recent research touting the benefits of regular exercise for the body especially as we become older. From the simplest act of walking to the powerful act of lifting weights, the latest studies offer hard evidence that if you are active you can build bone and muscle mass, increase the strength of your heart and even increase brain matter no matter how old you are.

Two studies stand out for me – the first because it was startling – a study conducted by B. Levine from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center showed that elderly people with a lifelong history of exercising six to seven times per week were able to build up their heart mass to an amount greater than healthy but sedentary adults aged 25-34. I mean is it possible that someone over the age of 65 could have a better heart than the average adult in their late twenties or early thirties?

That news is great for our senior population because it shows that you can possibly extend your life by exercising. And at the very least you can live a better, more active and independent life.

The second study stood out because the power of the human body never ceases to amaze me – Mark Peterson from the University of Michigan it was found that adults over 50 years old could increase muscle mass by an average of 2.5 lbs. in a mere five months by completing resistance training. And his research was further supported by another study showing that the more intense the weight lifting program, the more dramatic the results. In that study participants who lifted the most weight increased their strength by over 30%.

These results are proving that seniors no longer have to settle for the loss of muscle, strength and an active lifestyle. A perfect example is the story of Sandy Palais from Arizona – diagnosed with osteoporosis at age 63; she started lifting weights to help stave off bone loss. Within a year she was strong enough to compete in her local senior Olympics. Now 10 years later she does resistance training for an hour each day, six days a week and has a drawer full of medals from competing.

And Sandy isn’t alone. There are several stories like hers that prove that the senior population is not content to just grow old. Even better news is that more fitness programs are being developed for our senior population including walking groups, stretching and yoga classes, and strength and balance classes. All of these designed for the senior population with the goal of helping them remain vital, energetic and healthy.

It’s nice to see that the old adage “you’re only as old as you feel” does have some legitimacy to it after all.

For more information on fitness programs for seniors in your area here are some good resources: local adult education programs, local senior centers (they often run special classes), local health clubs and fitness studios.

Research links:







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