Pilates Benefits Seniors

January 1, 2024 at 2:59 p.m.
Pilates has been shown to be beneficial for seniors. Pilates classes may be offered using Pilates equipment or on a mat. Photo courtesy Cloud 9 Pilates
Pilates has been shown to be beneficial for seniors. Pilates classes may be offered using Pilates equipment or on a mat. Photo courtesy Cloud 9 Pilates


... by Jean Chen Smith

As we head into 2024, most people are probably ready to leave the indulgences of the holidays behind and recommit to a healthy lifestyle. Although the hard part is to begin a new routine, once you start to see the benefits of moving and feeling better, exercise will be something you might look forward to doing. 

As someone who has been practicing Pilates for over 20 years and owns my own studio, I highly recommend Pilates for people of all ages. Our boutique fitness center, Studio Cloud 9 Pilates, serves beginners, along with people who have been practicing for many years. Pilates has many benefits for individuals of all fitness levels. In fact, Pilates builds core strength as it targets the entirety of your torso, from your hips to your shoulders. Back and stabilizing muscles also benefit from doing Pilates, which lead to better posture and coordination.

Pilates is different from Yoga and focuses on a system of exercises designed to improve strength, flexibility, and posture, and enhance mental awareness. Depending on the studio, some offer equipment such as the reformer and chair, while mat Pilates is typically more widely offered. The reformer is an excellent piece of apparatus that allows for non-weight bearing exercises. 

Improved balance and stability is crucial for older adults as it can help them improve much of their functional movement, helping to avoid falls and accidents. This is exactly perfect for seniors as they undergo changes in their body such as vertigo and bone health. Pilates can also help with age-related ailments such as arthritis, Parkinsons, and flexibility. The gentle, mid-range exercises help keep joints mobile, without compressing or causing additional strain.

That being said, when I work with senior clients, the key is to customize each workout to the individual. Our group classes contain four reformers which allow instructors to pay attention to client’s needs. When you’re first starting out, make sure to let your teacher know you are new and also advise if you have any injuries they need to pay attention to. It is very important to recognize that older people will not be able to do the exact movements as their younger counterparts. A good instructor will offer cues for exercise modifications. Look for small class sizes so you get the personal attention you need. 

Another option for the senior client is to begin with private classes. Private instruction is offered at most Pilates studios. This will ensure a solid foundation in the basic movement principles of Pilates, and make it easier for an instructor to tailor modifications to a student's needs. During Covid, our studio began to offer Zoom services and we continue to do so because of the demand. When looking for a studio to practice at, make sure you ask questions. 

Here are three easy exercises that can be beneficial to seniors and can easily be done at home:


Start lying on the mat face down. Keep your arms close to your body as you bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders. Shoulders should be away from the ears.

The legs are usually together, but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder-width apart.

Engage your abdominal muscles, lift your belly button up away from the mat. The abdominals remain lifted throughout the exercise to engage the core.

Inhale: Lengthen your spine, sending energy through the top of your head as you press your forearms and hands into the mat to support a long upward arc of the upper body.

The elbows should be close to the body, the head stays in line with the spine, and the hips stay on the mat.

Protect your lower back by sending your tailbone down toward the mat.

Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as you release the arc, lengthening your spine as your torso returns to the mat in a sequential way: low-belly, mid-belly, low-ribs and so on.

Repeat Swan 3 to 5 times using an even, flowing breath to support the movement.


The Mermaid is a great movement for older adults because it will lengthen and stretch the side body. To start, sit on your mat with both legs folded to the left side. Place the right hand on the floor to give the body support when sitting up. While keeping the left shoulder down, extend the left arm straight up and lengthen the spine as the body stretches to the side. The opposite (support) hand will move farther away from the body to increase the stretch but be sure your ribs aren't popping forward. Try to keep the core engaged here.

To return back to start, send the left sit bone down and then engage the core to bring the torso up. Repeat on the other side to complete the full movement.

Side Leg Circles

Side circles can improve hip joint flexibility and improve balance. To perform a side circle, lay on your side and extend the top leg towards the ceiling (without causing discomfort). The leg will then move counterclockwise in small circles. And then clockwise in small circles. Lower leg and switch sides to reap the full-benefits of this Pilates movement.

To learn more about author Jean Chen Smith and her Pilates studio, visit https://www.studiocloud9pilates.com

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