Exercise and balance training programs reduce falls among older adults, but more understanding is needed to identify how your clients can gain this benefit from Pilates exercises.
A small study involving older Australian adults has provided further evidence that Pilates improves static and dynamic balance. Researchers from the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia, and from LaTrobe University, in Melbourne, conducted a randomized, controlled crossover study to evaluate the effect of a Pilates program on balance and function in community-dwelling adults over the age of 60.
Investigators recruited 32 male and female subjects with no acute conditions to participate in the crossover study. Participants were assigned to either a 5-week Pilates program or 5 weeks of usual activity (the control group). After a 6-week washout period, the groups switched and the intervention was repeated. Pilates participants trained in 1-hour classes, twice per week, doing standing, mat and equipment-based exercises and were taught how to conduct an at-home mat exercise program once per week. Researchers collected data at baseline, after the first intervention, after 6 weeks of normal activities (before the second intervention) and at the end of the second intervention. Measurements included sway range, Four Square Step Test, Timed Up and Go Test and leg strength.
Data analysis showed that static and dynamic balance improved in both groups pre- to post-Pilates, but no significant differences were apparent between the Pilates and control groups. Leg strength did not change.
Even though no significant differences surfaced between the groups, study authors concluded that Pilates participation improved static and dynamic balance. They suggested that the small sample size, the crossover study design or the fact that Pilates might produce neuromuscular adaptations that last for an as yet undetermined length of time could potentially explain the lack of contrast between the groups. More research, using longer Pilates programs and larger sample sizes, was recommended.
The study appeared in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (2012; 93, 43–49).