Does Pilates Offer Heart Health Benefits?

Pilates is one of the most popular exercises practiced today. It is claimed that it provides multiple benefits like improvement of body balance, reflexes and coordination. It also helps build muscle and strength. This study attempted to explore whether these exercises could provide fitness as well as help the heart. Results showed that Pilates is indeed beneficial in making one strong, more supple and flexible. However, these exercises have limited heart benefits and also do not burn enough calories, even though participants feel that they are working out hard.

Pilates is purported to be beneficial in many ways and is increasingly popular among gym-goers. These exercises supposedly improve balance, flexibility and strength. However, there have been very few studies that have proven the actual benefit offered to the heart. The researchers also looked into benefits in terms of calorie burning, as well as flexibility and strength, by including Pilates in the study’s fitness regimen. This study was undertaken to see the actual benefits that Pilates can provide. It attempted to see if regular inclusion of Pilates during exercise could improve aerobic fitness and qualify as good cardio workouts for women.

* The study included 15 women volunteers who were healthy and aged between 18 and 26 years. All these women had prior experience with Pilates.
* The exercise regimen was for 50 minutes: five-minute warm-up, five minutes of basic Pilates, 40 minutes of advanced Pilates, followed by a five-minute cool down period.
* All throughout the session, the participant’s heart and breathing was monitored. At the end of the exercise session, all women were asked to rate their perception of the intensity of the exercise.

Daesults/key findings
* The results showed that heart rates rose by 54 percent with basic Pilates. This is below the recommended 64 to 94 percent rise that ensures a good workout for the heart. Oxygen consumption was at 28 percent, which is also below the recommended level of 50 to 85 percent.
* With advanced Pilates, heart rates rose to 62 percent and oxygen consumption to 43 percent; levels that were still below recommendations.
* Participants’ perception, however, was that their exercising was that of a heavy muscular workout for both the basic and advanced Pilates.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The study was carried out using healthy women participants who had at least an intermediate experience with Pilates. There is a significant difference between beginner levels and intermediate levels of Pilates training and its effects on the body. Pilates might not have the required cardiovascular benefits, but the exercise regime does improve core strength. Additional research is required to find out the exact effects on the body during beginner, intermediate and advanced Pilates, as well as the use of a trained instructor.

The authors agree that in their study, heart benefits of Pilates were not seen. They suggest that Pilates could be adopted by people who are looking for more strength and suppleness rather than burning calories and benefiting the heart. One of the authors stated, “Pilates is a great form of exercise for most populations especially those looking for some toning and flexibility help. It can be modified somewhat or scaled down to fit everyone’s needs.” These exercises make the person feel they are working out harder than they actually are, and there is a major difference in heart rate and oxygen utilization between basic and advanced levels of Pilates. This could mean that each person may choose Pilates according to their fitness levels and benefit by building core strength and stability.

For More Information:
An American Council on Exercise (ACE) – Sponsored Study: Can Pilates Do It All?
Publication Journal: ACE FitnessMatters, November/ December 2005
By Stefanie Spilde, MS; John Porcari, PhD; University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, Wisconsin

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.