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The Benefits of Pilates and 10 Easy Pilates Exercises for Seniors

two seniors practicing pilates at a senior living community

It’s increasingly important to focus on core strength as we age. Our core is much more than just the abdominal muscles. It includes our torso; front, back and sides, as well as the muscles surrounding the spine and those of the hips and lower back. While a stable core allows us to lift, reach, turn and bend with ease, a weak core can destabilize us, making us more susceptible to balance-related falls. If we have poor posture or are carrying extra weight, a weak core can also contribute to back pain.

Pilates Please!

Pilates has been around for over 100  years. It started as a rehabilitation treatment in hospitals and gained popularity with dancers as a way to treat injury, train posture and improve athletic ability. Now firmly in the mainstream, its thoughtful, precise movements are performed in reclining or sitting positions, and are mostly low-impact or partially weight-bearing.Developing much of what older adults need, Pilates for seniors builds strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance and good posture — with a much lower chance of injury than with other forms of exercise. If you’re looking to strengthen your body’s core — abdomen, lower back, inner and outer thighs, and so on – as well as maintain, or achieve, good posture, then Pilates for seniors is for you.

Benefits of Pilates for Seniors

Much has been made of how Pilates moves target the core, although the exercises also work other areas of your body. While classes in a Pilates studio use specialized machines and other equipment, you’ll find many of the movements can be done on a mat. Some movements can be adapted into chair Pilates exercises for seniors too.

A Great Place to Start

If you’re interested in trying Pilates for seniors, start at home. All you’ll need is a mat and some floor space. These suggestions for 10 easy Pilates exercises for seniors can be modified or made more challenging as you like. You can do more or fewer of the suggested number of repetitions as you feel able. Work your way toward completing a round of all 10 moves in 20 minutes.

1. Rolling Warm-up 

Stand with feet parallel, hip-distance apart. Extend your arms overhead, focusing on reaching through your upper back. Slowly roll down toward the floor as far as you can go. In this bent over position, sit back as if you are sitting in a chair, and slowly raise your arms overhead again. Slowly return to a standing position. Do 3 repetitions.

2. Dynamic Rear Leg Raise

Position your body on all fours with your weight evenly distributed between elbows and knees. Gently engage your core and extend your right leg back with toes pointed and hovering slightly above the ground. While keeping the leg straight, lift your leg as high as you can without causing discomfort or arching your back. Lower the leg slowly back down to starting position, and switch legs. Do 5 repetitions per side.

3. Thigh Stretch

Kneel on the floor with your knees directly under your hips and your feet touching. Lean your upper body back no farther than 45 degrees, keeping your abdominals engaged and squeezing your butt. Maintain a straight line from head to knees. Slowly return to an upright position. You can make this move more challenging by raising and lowering your arms when you’re leaned back. Do 10 repetitions. 

4. Kneeling Side Kick

Stay in the kneeling position. Extend and lower your left hand to the ground while holding your right hand behind your head. Lift the right leg to hip height and then lower. Do this 10  times. Then lift your leg again and rotate it in small circles, 10  times. Repeat on the other side. You can make this move easier by lying on your side instead of kneeling. Do 15 repetitions per side. 

5. Double Leg Stretch

Lie on your back. Engage your abdominals and curl up so your shoulders are slightly raised off the floor. Keep your lower back pressed to the floor at all times. Extend your arms over your head, parallel with the floor. Raise your legs to a 45-degree angle off the floor. Circle your arms around and hug your knees to your chest. Make it easier by resting your head on the floor and keeping legs at a 90-degree angle. Make it harder by scissoring your legs 5 times with each extension. Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

6. Bent-Arm Plank

Lie on your stomach on the floor with your elbows directly underneath your shoulders and forearms flat on the floor. Focus your eyes between your hands. Your legs should be resting behind you, knees hip-width apart (or slightly farther apart for extra balance). Lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from head to ankles, and squeeze your upper back, core and glutes. Hold this position for 30 seconds. To make it easier, hold your plank as long as possible, rest, then repeat until you reach 30 seconds in total. Or do the move with your knees on the floor and lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from head to knees. Do 5 repetitions.

7. The Hundred

This famous Pilates move is so named  because you do 100 counts. Work up to this in 10 repetition increments, over time. Lie on your back. Curl your head, neck and shoulders up off the floor. Raise your legs up with your knees directly over your hips, and your lower legs parallel with the floor. Engage your core and stay in this position as you pump your arms up and down, breathing in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts, totaling 10 counts. Make this harder by extending legs straight out and parallel with the floor. 

8. Swimming

Lie on your stomach on the floor with your legs extended behind you, knees hip-width apart. Stretch your arms forward so they’re shoulder-width apart. Raise your chest up and extend your right arm and left leg off the floor. Your head and chest, if possible, should also lift off the floor, but only lift as far as you comfortably can. Keep your neck neutral, and gaze down on the floor, if that helps. Lower back down and repeat on the opposite side with left arm and right leg extended. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.

9. Swan

Stay on your stomach, with your hands underneath your shoulders. Engage your core and lift your head slightly, gazing down at the floor. Raise your chest and extend your arms forward as you lift your legs 1 inch above the mat. Pull your arms back parallel with the floor, bending your elbows so your hands end up by your ears. Hold, then lower everything down to the mat. Do 5 to 8 repetitions.

10. Bird Dog

Start on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Engage your core, keep your spine neutral, and gaze down or slightly forward. Lift your left arm and extend your right leg until they’re in line with the rest of your body. Pause, then lower back down, and repeat on the opposite side with right arm and left leg extended. To make it easier, keep your hands on the floor, and only extend your leg. Do 5 to 10 repetitions.

Another Great Place to Start

At Freedom Village at Brandywine, we offer an empowering environment where you can maintain your strength, mobility and independence for longer. Whether it’s group fitness classes such as yoga and Pilates for seniors, solo lap swimming in our indoor heated pool, or a little friendly competition on the putting green or in the game room, our community supports all kinds of activities for your best life. Call us at ​484-288-2200 to find out more.