By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
“Mat” Pilates – the no-equipment version of this popular exercise method – can help women with hypertension reshape their bodies and lower their blood pressure, according to a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Cardiology.
Study Shows Pilates Can Help Women Reduce Blood Pressure and Lose Inches
Through a 16-week Mat Pilates Training study, Brazilian researchers studied 44 hypertensive women in their fifties who were taking medication to lower their blood pressure. None of the women were involved in any type of structured exercise program. The researchers divided the women into two groups: one was assigned to perform an hour of Mat Pilates twice a week, and the other was a control group, which was instructed to maintain normal daily activities, but without exercise.
By the end of the study, the women in the Pilates group had reduced their systolic (upper number) blood pressure by 7 points, and their diastolic (lower number) blood pressure by 3 points. Plus, they trimmed 1 ¼ inches off their waist, whittled an inch off their hips, increased their flexibility, and boosted their hand strength. Some even got a little taller – by a third of an inch! Body mass went down only slightly.
The positive findings led the researchers to conclude: “These results support the recommendation of Mat Pilates as a non-drug treatment for hypertension.”
Benefits of Pilates: For Women and Men Alike
This is an important study, and I was glad to see it, because it focused on an at-risk group for high blood pressure: middle-aged women. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is more common in men early in life, but after the age of 55, more women than men develop it and in surprisingly high numbers. The women who did Pilates made some impressive improvements in heart health and body shape, and these results were achieved by exercising only twice a week – which supports my “less is more” approach to exercise. If you’re a woman with high blood pressure and taking anti-hypertension medication, I would definitely consider giving Mat Pilates a try.
And, just because this study focused on women, it doesn’t mean that Pilates isn’t a great practice for men to add to their exercise regimens. I regularly do Pilates, myself (using machines and with an instructor), and recommend it highly for men and women alike.
Practicing Mat Pilates is a great way to lose inches and is easy on your joints. Pilates is also a good way to build your core strength and improve your flexibility. Like yoga, it can relax your mind and leave you feeling revitalized. And now we know that Pilates can help control blood pressure!
Pilates and Weight Loss
The benefits of Pilates also likely include weight loss. Losing inches – as the women in this study did – means losing fat. Since their body mass did not go down much, it’s likely that these women lost fat and gained muscle elsewhere. Burning fat and developing muscle tone is the key to boosting metabolism. The more body fat we have, the slower we burn calories while at rest, and the more muscle we have, the faster we burn calories at rest. Getting in shape, really, is about training the body to metabolize calories better by developing muscle tone and losing body fat. So, while weight loss wasn’t noted in this study as one of the benefits of Pilates, it makes sense that doing Pilates regularly could help you lose weight.
Which is Better: Mat or Machine Pilates?
As mentioned earlier, I do the machine variety of Pilates, and – as luck would have it, there’s a studio right down the street from my home. As far as which method is better, it’s really just a matter of preference. You don’t need any fancy equipment to reap the benefits of Pilates – just a mat and a qualified instructor to lead you through the moves. Take Pilates classes or pop an instructional video into your VCR or DVD player. With Mat Pilates, your own body serves as a strengthening and stretching “machine.”
One Last Note: Don’t Forget to Breathe!
The women in this study were taught how to breathe while performing the Pilates exercises. Breathing while performing Pilates is vital; if you hold your breath during the moves, you risk driving your blood pressure up. Tell your instructor if you have high blood pressure so he or she can make sure you breathe correctly while exercising.
- Martins-Meneses DT, et al. Mat Pilates training reduced clinical and ambulatory blood pressure in hypertensive women using antihypertensive medications. International Journal of Cardiology. 2015;20:262-268.
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