Pilates: A Holistic Approach to Manage Chronic Pain and Improve Heart Health

  • By Nina Willis
  • 7 September 2023
  • 4 minute read
Pilates: A Holistic Approach to Manage Chronic Pain and Improve Heart Health | The Health Sessions

This article is written by Nina Willis.

Are you always on the lookout for lifestyle strategies that could ease your pain? Then you might want to add Pilates to the list. 

Pilates is an effective way to manage chronic pain and improve your heart health. One piece of research that analyzed multiple studies concluded that Pilates was moderately superior to other physiotherapeutic treatments in reducing lower back pain. 

Meanwhile, another study found that mat Pilates reduced blood pressure by 5 to 6 points. And that’s helpful, since people with chronic pain are at increased risk of cardiovascular problems due to the stress of pain on the body. 

By introducing Pilates into your life, you can take a holistic approach to managing chronic pain and improving cardiovascular health.

Being Mindful of Your Body

Pilates teaches people to be mindful. Winona Holl, Chairman of the Pilates Foundation says “It’s a holistic exercise system designed to mobilize, strengthen, stabilize, and balance the body.” 

With Pilates every move needs to be carefully carried out and breathing techniques are taught. These breathing exercises can help you to relax and destress which, in turn, can help with your pain management. 

The good thing about this is that breathing techniques can be done anywhere. Chronic pain often comes on at work because of poor posture, excessive standing, and repetitive strain injuries. Over-the-counter medication and heat or cold treatments can help people to deal with discomfort in the workplace. But relaxation techniques, such as meditation and the breathing techniques used in Pilates, can help ease and prevent symptoms too. 

As Pilates is a mindful exercise, you’re likely to start thinking mindfully about other aspects of your life, including what you eat. This can also improve your cardiovascular health, as nutritious foods impact the functioning of your heart and arteries. “Even with small changes over time, you can gain the benefits of a heart-healthy diet,” clinical dietitian Cindy Hwang says.

Pilates: A Holistic Approach to Manage Chronic Pain and Improve Heart Health | The Health Sessions
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Chronic Pain Benefits

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 20% of adults in the US live with chronic pain. Lady GaGa, who is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, says “Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel”. 

Pilates can help with chronic pain, according to Alyson Mackay, a Pilates teacher and doctor of physical therapy, because it improves spine mobility by encouraging correct alignment. Core strength is also gained as the stomach and back muscles are strengthened. Having increased stability in these areas “works to prevent low back joint stiffness and muscle tightness,” Mackay says. 

Science further backs up the use of Pilates for chronic pain. One study found that participants with lower back pain who did Pilates for 8 weeks reported an improvement in their quality of life by 9.2 points.

Better Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, according to the CDC. 5.5% of the population have been diagnosed, although many more may be living with it silently. Nisha Jhalani, MD, the director of CRF Women’s Heart Health Initiative, warns “Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of women — yet many are unaware of their own risk factors, and how to manage them.” 

One way that Pilates can help to lower your risk of heart disease is by improving your cardiovascular fitness (CRF). Abbott reports that a low CRF strongly indicates that someone is at risk of a heart-related medical emergency, such as a stroke. 

Research found that Pilates effectively increases the amount of oxygen absorbed by the body during exercise, and this positive impact on CRF was seen with 1440 minutes of Pilates. So, if you want to improve your heart health by working on your CRF, you’ll need to practise Pilates twice per week for three months or three times per week for two months. 

As traditional mat Pilates isn’t a cardiovascular workout in itself, it’s recommended that you do it alongside cardio-based exercise that’s safe for people with chronic pain, such as swimming, walking, or stationary biking. This is in line with advice from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Plus, strength exercises, such as Pilates, a minimum of twice per week.

Pilates: A Holistic Approach to Manage Chronic Pain and Improve Heart Health | The Health Sessions
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Managing chronic pain and improving cardiovascular health holistically must include multiple factors, including diet and alternative therapies, but Pilates can play a significant role. As Pilates has a big impact on your breathing and forces you to focus on how you position and hold your body, you’ll gradually adopt these methods in your everyday life too. 

So, if you’re keen to get started with Pilates to manage your chronic pain, contact a qualified Pilates instructor or book into your local Pilates class.

For other chronic illness-friendly ways to move your body and manage your symptoms, take a look at 24 exercise snacks you can easily fit in your day or slowly work your way up to 10,000 steps a day with these 25 exciting walking ideas

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