Benefits of Pilates: Reduced Blood Pressure and Potential Weight Loss

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.


© 2016 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply


  1. ven

    on January 8, 2016 at 2:58 am

    this is only for women? how about men?

  2. HMDI Editor

    on January 8, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    The study was done with women only, but it doesn’t mean that men wouldn’t benefit similarly from doing Pilates. Dr. Sinatra, himself, does Pilates regularly, working with an instructor and equipment! He recommends it for both genders.

  3. Georgia cantu

    on January 10, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    If you cannot afford an instructor is there a pilates video you can recommend.

  4. Georgia cantu

    on January 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Is there a pilates video you can recommend

  5. Michelle

    on September 29, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Was this written by Dr. Stephen Sinatra?

  6. HeartMD Editor

    on September 30, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Yes, Dr. Sinatra is the one making all the commentary like “as I mentioned earlier, I do Pilates…”; the article reflects his opinions and advice, not someone else’s.

  7. Nataliya

    on January 23, 2020 at 1:50 am

    A great read. Thanks. One of aunts is heart patient, however the studio where we go they have plans for everyone. They don’t put her in for heavy pilates, but rather the lighter ones that would keep her heart rate balanced and provide the benefits of Pilates as well. Pilates are really helpful under the right guidance. You can check out the studio where I go in NYC;

  8. Alice Carroll

    on March 25, 2020 at 1:37 am

    It’s great to know that Pilates classes do not only help in losing weight but also in gaining muscle. One of my goal this year is to get my arms and legs toned more to improve my body image. I better also get my friends along with this so we can go to group Pilates classes together.

  9. Afton Jackson

    on May 5, 2021 at 11:40 pm

    I was really interested when you stated that pilates can be just as beneficial for men as it is for women. I’ve always wanted to try exercising with my wife so we can develop our physical and social bond better, and this activity sounds perfect for that. Once I find a pilates class we can both go to, I’ll make sure to encourage her to take it with me.

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