A new paper published in the journal American Journal of Hypertension in April 2020 shows that Pilates could work well when it comes to improving cardiovascular health and controlling blood pressure in young obese women. This group of patients is at high risk for high blood pressure and weak blood vessel health.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a system of physical fitness developed by Joseph Pilates, who called it “Contrology.” Now practiced worldwide, it has been adopted by over 11 million people, with the US alone boasting 14,000 instructors. The system is an offshoot of the physical culture movement that occurred around the end of the 19th century, lasting well into the 20th century.
Pilates described his method as the art of controlled movements, with the focus being on building core strength. The core consists of the muscles of the abdomen, low back, and hips called the powerhouse, which determines the stability of the body. The advantages of Pilates are improved flexibility, greater strength, and better control and endurance through a combination of balance, coordination, alignment, and breathing.
Pilates focuses on strengthening and lengthening the core muscles, as well as those of the arms and legs, using only a firm padded mat. With several celebrities like Beyoncé and Emma Stone having taken to it, Pilates saw 9 million people participating in 2019, making it among the best-known wellness routines in the US.
Obesity in young adults
Adolescent obesity has become a significant public health problem over the past decades. Recent studies show a 34% prevalence of obesity in the age group 20-39-year olds in America. Excessive weight gain also occurs at the highest rate in this group. At the same time, differences in weight gain between races and ethnic groups also become more pronounced in this group.
Not much is known about why people become obese at this point, however. Some contributing factors include moving out of the parental home to live independently, adopting a different pattern of eating, working full-time, marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, and divorce.
The health cost of young adult obesity includes diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, which could be offset by investing in the prevention of this condition.
Pilates in young obese adults
Young women tend to gain the most weight in their first pregnancy, which contributes significantly to young adult obesity. Exercise is essential in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular health issues. However, workouts are among the first to suffer in the hustle and bustle of normal life.
The current study
Several studies have looked at how Pilates enhances cardiovascular health, but few are of high quality, and the numbers involved are typically small. The current study was motivated by the need to examine the effect of mat Pilates on hypertension in young women with obesity.
The study looked at young women aged 19-27 years who were obese and had high blood pressure. The body mass index varied between 30 and 40 kg/m2. All the women took a 12-week course in mat Pilates.
None of the women had any underlying chronic conditions. All were non-smokers. At baseline, none of them performed 90 or more minutes of regular exercise in any given week.
The participants were given three sessions of training a week, each lasting one hour. All sessions were supervised by a certified mat Pilates instructor.
The sessions included 10 minutes of warming up and stretching, followed by 40 minutes of Pilates mat exercises and 10 minutes of cooling down. Over the 12 weeks, the intensity of training steadily mounted in terms of the number of repetitions of each exercise.
The researchers found that women who did mat Pilates had a markedly lower arterial stiffness measurement and blood pressure. This included blood pressure in the central aorta, which indicates the effect of this exercise method on the heart.
The investigators conclude, “Our findings provide evidence that Mat Pilates benefit cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and body fatness in young obese women with elevated blood pressure.” This study could help promote the use of mat Pilates to prevent hypertension and cardiovascular events in young adults with obesity. This group of young adults is typically reluctant to carry out traditional workouts, whether aerobic or resistance exercises. The effects of obesity could be significantly countered by adopting mat Pilates for this high-risk group, as other older studies indicate.
- Alexei Wong, Arturo Figueroa, Stephen M Fischer, Reza Bagheri, Song-Young Park, The Effects of Mat Pilates Training on Vascular Function and Body Fatness in Obese Young Women With Elevated Blood Pressure, American Journal of Hypertension, hpaa026, https://academic.oup.com/ajh/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ajh/hpaa026/5814700?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- Fernandez-Rodriguez, R., et al. (2019). Pilates Method Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019 Nov; 8(11): 1761. Published online 2019 Oct 23. doi: 10.3390/jcm8111761. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6912807/