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Pilates Classes Improve Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Joseph Pilates developed the exercise system bearing his name to be a low-impact fitness routine that would be suitable for anyone and that could also enhance mindfulness and mood.

As the exercise system grew in popularity, healthcare settings began adopting it, but not without a healthy dose of scepticism. As an exercise practice that is suitable for many 90- year-olds, does it offer the rigors necessary for various health benefits?

The research has demonstrated a robust collection of benefits in health and rehabilitation, in many cases exceeding that of other forms of exercise. This past June, Alexei Wong (Marymount University - USA) and colleagues added cardiovascular risk factors to the list of benefits.1 Pilates is a method of exercise focusing on controlled movement, stretching, and breathing.

Practitioners describe Pilates as having six major components: centering, concentration, control, precision, flow, and breathing.2 As a general fitness routine, research finds Pilates to be strong for improving flexibility and dynamic balance and moderate for building muscular strength.3 A 2018 systematic review finds that, as a rehabilitation tool, evidence supports the effectiveness of Pilates in the treatment of a range of orthopaedic conditions including low back pain, ankylosing spondylitis, postmenopausal osteoporosis, non-structural scoliosis, and chronic neck pain.4

The effectiveness even bears out against fitness controls such as stationary cycling. To date, the potential effectiveness of Pilates for vascular function has not been well documented. This is why Wong et al. conducted a randomized controlled trial measuring a range of cardiovascular risk factors.1 Their subjects were obese women with hypertension.

After only 12 weeks of Pilates classes led by a credentialed instructor, researchers compared outcomes to a waitlist control group. The following improvements were measured:

• Brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity to measure arterial stiffness improved an average of 0.7 m/s.

• Aortic systolic blood pressure improved 6 mm Hg.

• Body fat composition improved 2%.

• Plasma nitric oxide levels increased 6 µM.


The study authors note that obese women may find general aerobic classes or group resistance training uninviting. The same can hold true for some senior citizens. Wong et al. note that they were interested in the effectiveness of Pilates for cardiovascular risk factors because patients may perceive the low-impact, “for-anyone” approach as more inviting, which, in turn, could prove more conducive to patient adherence.

Group classes at Advanced Physio offer easy access to guided exercise with low cost and the benefits of socialisation. Additionally, all participants receive a physiotherapy or exercise physiology assessment prior to enrolment.

This assessment can determine the suitability of movements & exercise intensity, teach patients to skip or modify any exercises as needed, and give patients additional resources as indicated to enhance the effectiveness of their exercise routines.

All classes are led by a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. Having group exercise available side-by-side with physiotherapy ensures sufficient individualised attention while offering the benefits of classes.


1. Wong A, Figueroa A, Fischer SM, Bagheri R, Park SY. The Effects of Mat Pilates Training on Vascular Function and Body Fatness in Obese Young Women With Elevated Blood Pressure. American Journal of Hypertension. 2020 May 21;33(6):563-9.

2. Wells C, Kolt GS, Bialocerkowski A. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2012 Aug 1; 20(4):253-62.

3. Cruz-Ferreira A, Fernandes J, Laranjo L, Bernardo LM, Silva A. A systematic review of the effects of Pilates method of exercise in healthy people. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2011 Dec 1;92 (12):2071-81.

4. Byrnes K, Wu PJ, Whillier S. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2018 Jan 1;22 (1):192-202.

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