Age no barrier to the benefits of Pilates

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Several years ago, the Faculty of Health’s School of Health Sciences started running Pilates classes for older members of the community to look at the benefits of the exercise on the health of the over 60s.

While previous research through the classes showed Pilates improved balance, strength and flexibility in seniors, a new study ‘Pilates for the Heart’ has shown that exercise using the large lower body muscles and resistance from Pilates equipment also elevates the heart rate into the ‘training’ or aerobic zone in older adults.

School of Health Sciences lecturer Dr Marie-Louise Bird, who led the study with the help of students Lewis Fazackerley and Rachel Austin, said the results of the research were unexpected.

“We didn’t think that Pilates would raise the heart rate high enough to reach an aerobic level,” Dr Bird said.

“This shows the potential exists to design Pilates classes to meet many of the exercise needs that apply to older adults.”

Held at the University’s Newnham campus in Launceston, the classes began several years ago when Dr Bird began looking at the use of Pilates to help reduce the frequency and severity of falls in the over 60s.

By the time the initial study was complete, the classes had gained such a strong following that participants supported them to continue.

Dr Bird said the classes were a great example of teaching, research and community engagement combined.

They also showed the benefit of exercise to people of all ages.

“One lady who turned 90 recently is a role model for other class members in their 70s and for what an active lifestyle can give you,” Dr Bird said.

“We also have 75 year olds riding pushbikes to the classes.”

With statistics showing that up to one in 10 older adults suffer a broken bone from falling and a 30 per cent mortality rate within a year of hospital treatment for senior patients who break a hip, Dr Bird said she hoped the classes would teach people better ways to move.

“The flow on effect is to reduce the stress on the body during everyday movements, and keep people active,” she said.

Dr Bird is currently touring nationally to share her research through workshops, for physiotherapists working in aged care without Pilates experience.

‘Pilates for your Heart’ which was recently published in the Journal of Fitness Research, was also aimed at encouraging second year Health Science students to engage in research.

Student Lewis Fazackerley, who has a strong interest in physiotherapy and health research, said the project had provided him with the perfect opportunity to gain both practical experience and research knowledge.

Mr Fazackerley recently presented a poster on ‘Pilates for Your Heart’ research at the Exercise and Sport Science Australia conference (ESSA) in Melbourne.

He was awarded the best poster presentation in the ‘exercise and health section’ of the conference and a prize of $4,000.

University of Tasmania

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