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The Secret Powers of Pilates

by Sarah Hughes

I’ve been teaching Pilates for 12 years now and every so often, this thing happens. In fact it just happened again a couple of days ago. Let me tell you about it…

I’ll be rolling up my mat at the end of the class, chatting to the participants about what their plans are for the rest of the day. Then one of the women (because Pilates participants are still mainly female) will say to me; “Oh I’m off out for a special lunch later. I’ve got a big birthday coming up tomorrow.” She’ll smile shyly and I’ll pause and take in her face, her posture, her shape. I’m assessing what exactly this big birthday number might be.

She’s too old to be 60, but she doesn’t really look 70 either. Does 65 count as a big birthday? I decide to play it safe, assuming she must be 70.

“Ooh really?” I exclaim. “ Are you fessing up then? Don’t make me guess the number!”

“I’ll be 80 years young tomorrow.”

Mic. Drop.

Seriously, this is a twice or thrice yearly occurrence! I should know the script by now… When I recover from the shock, these women always tell me that they credit their youthful looks to a smattering of good genes, and a lifetime commitment to Pilates.

It’s well known that Pilates helps improve our posture, our balance and our muscle tone, but the benefits are far more wide ranging than that, and some of them may just surprise you. Here are my top three:

Pilates is anti-ageing

“Pilates is like botox for the body!” That’s what the lady I mentioned earlier said to me the other day. I had to disagree in the sense that one quick shot of Pilates isn’t going to reverse the ageing process in the way a syringe of botox might… but I could see what she was getting at. Pilates stimulates our circulation which in turn serves our skin well. Over time it vastly improves posture, warding off that rounded upper spine, which we all know can be a tell-tale sign of the ageing process. It keeps our muscles toned and youthful and it’s strengthening powers mean regular practice can even help ward off osteoporosis.Genuinely, I’ve seen it time and again in a way I haven’t with other forms of exercise; Pilates is like investing in a time machine!

Pilates can improve your mood long term

The Pilates method is all about establishing a mind - body connection. It’s normal to see people arrive at a class after a hectic day, holding tension in their bodies and faces. Give them 45 minutes on the mat with me and they will finish feeling much more relaxed, calm and centred. Spending time concentrating on coordination and flow means theres no room in the brain for all those little stressors that have been vying for your attention. It’s why Pilates is known to reduce blood pressure in the immediate instance and also in the longer term.

In fact, in March 2020 an American study revealed that after just one 30 minute Pilates class, young men who had been experiencing low mood, reported feeling less anxious and fatigued. It was the first study to support positive mood changes as a direct result of what the researchers called ‘an acute bout of Pilates.’

Pilates will increase your energy levels

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were too tired to exercise… well, you know how the saying goes! But that excuse just won’t wash when it comes to Pilates, since evidence points to it being a form of exercise which increases rather than depletes energy levels. It seems a bit of a dichotomy that a practice which leaves us feeling so relaxed would also re-energise us, and the answer to that is the production of endorphins.

Unlike high intensity exercise, Pilates releases endorphins steadily and slowly. Studies have shown that the body then associates these endorphins with feelings of pleasure which last way beyond the length of the workout.

In addition to this, regular Pilates practice improves breath control and lung capacity, both of which have a positive effect on our energy levels. Like any form of exercise, to see measurable changes we need to make exercise habitual and find a way to incorporate it into our daily routine.

So what are you waiting for? If those three surprising benefits aren’t enough to get you whipping your Pilates mat out, then I can also offer you strengthened pelvic floor muscles, better coordination, injury rehab/prevention and increased flexibility. Oh… and a pert bottom of course.


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