Impact of Pilates on Blood Sugar Levels, Heart Rate and Calorie Burning

spine stretch by a dancer

New research into stretching suggests that doing Pilates regularly can lower blood sugar levels, increase heart rate and burn calories – all major health benefits of course.

The BBC programme, Trust Me, I’m A Doctor teamed up with Dr Ian Lahart of Wolverhampton University to explore the impact of passive stretching (where a person is stretched by someone else) on health.  This experiment was a follow-up to research studies in the US and Korea looking at the benefits of passive stretching on diabetes sufferers.

The Trust Me, I’m A Doctor Stretching Experiment

10 volunteers were tested on two separate days.  On each day they came in having not eaten overnight, and drank a sugary drink whilst their blood sugar levels were monitored.

20 minutes after drinking the drink, they either sat still (day one) or they were gently stretched for approximately 20 minutes (day two).

On the stretching day, the participants were carefully stretched 10 times.  Each stretch (six lower body and four upper body stretches) lasted 30 seconds. Each 30 second stretch was repeated twice with 10-15 seconds in between each repetition and 15 seconds between each stretch.

Participants’ blood sugar levels were measured three times: once straight before the sitting or stretching period, once straight after the 20 minutes of sitting or stretching and then finally, 20 minutes after that.

Straight after the stretch, the volunteers’ energy expenditure in calories, along with their heart rate were also measured.

Standing Spine Stretch

The Results

Blood Sugar Levels

When the volunteers weren’t being stretched, a sugary drink raised their blood sugar levels as you would expect. But when their muscles were gently stretched after having the same drink, their blood sugar levels actually FELL and by 16%, making them 23% lower than the peak their blood sugar reached when they just sat still.

Heart Rate

The volunteers’ heart rates were on average 17% higher with stretching compared to when they just sat still, going from an average of 67 beats per minute to an average of 78 beats per minute. This increase is in line with what you would expect during low (mild) intensity aerobic exercise; the effort required was similar to taking a stroll. The heart rate reflects the effort expended.

Energy Expenditure

The participants burned 126% more calories per hour as they were being stretched compared to when they were just sitting still. That’s nearly 100 (98.3) calories extra per hour without doing any exercise themselves.

Conclusions from the Study for Pilates

Dr Lahart said that if you were to stretch yourself rather than being passively stretched you would expect an even bigger impact on blood sugar levels, heart rate and energy expenditure than was seen in the study.  This is because you’re manoeuvring yourself into those stretching positions and you’re applying more tension in the muscles.

Based on this, we can conclude that the stretching achieved during the course of an hour-long Pilates session can significantly lower blood sugar levels, increase the heart rate and burn an impressive number of calories than you might expect from a low intensity form of aerobic exercise.

To close, the best song with the word stretch in the title? Probably…


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