Pilates for all Ages and Stages
Elaine Ewing teaching Barbara Schrieber at Rhinebeck Pilates
Many of us have only a vague idea of what Pilates is. We picture fit women with well defined abdominals in spandex pants and tank tops doing planks for hours on end. This can be an intimidating image for men and women who are interested in the health benefits of Pilates but who would be wildly uncomfortable in spandex pants. It is also an unfair depiction of the exercise program, which is individually paced and appropriate for all ages, genders and fitness levels.
Elaine Ewing, owner of Rhinebeck Pilates, says, “At my studio, we have regular students ranging in age from 10 to 82. All ages and stages of life require strength and flexibility to do the things they need and like to do and Pilates helps improve both.”
“Pilates can be beneficial to anyone at any age,” explains Valeria Barreto, owner of Pilates and More, in Dobbs Ferry. “It targets and improves strength, posture, stability and overall physical health, along with balance elasticity and flexibility.”
Pilates in the Early Years
Tina Sferra, owner of Elite Performance Physical Therapy of Westchester, PC, acknowledges the incredible health benefits of developing the core and pelvic floor for women in their childbearing years. “Practicing Pilates prior to getting pregnant is can help women learn about their deep core and prevent pelvic floor dysfunction later on.”
Body awareness is another key component of a Pilates practice that helps women before, during and after pregnancy. “When women start a pregnancy with a Pilates practice in place, they start much stronger and aware of their body,” notes Ewing. “During pregnancy, Pilates helps to keep strength in the arms, legs and back to support the changes in the body, and after pregnancy the practice helps to regain the pelvic floor strength, as well as core strength, that was lost during those nine months.”
Middle Age and Beyond
As men and women graduate into their 50s and 60s, many start to experience bone density issues in the form of osteopenia and osteoporosis. Pilates can help bone health and stability. Barreto explains, “It has been proven that weight-bearing exercise can strengthen bones. Pilates uses weights and springs to provide resistance during exercises, which improves strength and enhances bone density.”
Ewing notes, “It is important to seek out the right teacher who knows the contraindications for osteoporosis, such as limited forward flexion, and one who can tailor a specific and wellrounded workout based on the individual’s needs.”
Balance is also a key component of healthy aging, claims Sferra, as well as spine health. “You are only as young as your spine and it must be moved through a range of daily motion to strengthen each vertebral joint, create space at each joint, as well as prevent degenerative disc disease, facet joint arthritis and stenosis. Sciatica and injuries of the joints can also be prevented through the core focus encouraged by Pilates.”
Many, especially women who have had children, struggle with bladder control issues as they get older, an embarrassing problem that is tied to the pelvic floor muscles. Pilates—with its strong core focus—can help with this issue. “As Pilates increases core strength, it also increases pelvic floor strength, which helps improves bladder control,” states Barretto.
Pelvic floor strength is not just a concern for females, notes Sferra. “Men and women alike need to think about the pelvic floor for their lifetimes for bladder and sexual function, as well as continuous circulation for prostate health in men,” she adds.
Getting Started in a Pilates Practice
The benefits of Pilates for people of all ages are undeniable but it is still difficult for some of us to get our foot in the studio door. To help ease the anxiety for newbies, most studios begin with a one-on-one consultation with each client that features a health assessment, a discussion about goals and a tour of the studio, including an introduction to the equipment. “Lying down on the Pilates Reformer is the best place to begin,” explains Sferra. “The system works. It takes the body through a developmental process of strength and skill building. Lying down allows each person to feel a neutral spine. Then, they sit up and learn to engage their core with proper alignment of their skeleton. Later on in the system, there are standing exercises as well. The best part about Pilates is that all who are consistent will progress at their own pace.”
Ewing reminds new students, especially those who are intimidated to remember that, “even the most advanced Pilates teachers once started out as new Pilates students.” She adds, “At first when you walk in, the studio will seem strange, with lots of equipment that looks much different than what you typically see at the gym. Once you lay down, though, you will see how your body fits perfectly into the equipment and how your muscles respond to the springs. It feels amazing and, remember that Pilates is good for the brain too. It builds strength in the mind as well as the body.”
Sources: Elaine Ewing, Rhinebeck Pilates, 6400 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck, 845.876.5686 or RhinebeckPilates.com; Tina Sferra, Elite Performance Physical Therapy of Westchester, PC, 41 Main St., Bedford Hills, 917.476.2164; Valeria Barreto, Pilates and More, 129 Main St., Dobbs Ferry, 914.478.3560 or PilatesAndMoreStudio.com.