New Clinical Studies on the Benefits of Pilates

street yoga

When Pilates is the subject of repeated clinical research, you know it’s a form of exercise the medical profession takes seriously.

This week I came across the findings of three new clinical studies, which proves the positive effect Pilates can have on depression, postpartum fatigue and urinary incontinence.

Pilates versus Depression

A research study into the mental benefits of Pilates involved depressed females at a residential battered women’s centre who did 30-45 minutes of Pilates, 3 days a week in a group class setting over a 12 week period.

The researchers measured levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter well-known for its mood-boosting effects, before the women began Pilates and once again after the 12 weeks were completed. In addition to serotonin, they measured depression levels (by means of a 21-question survey called Beck Depression Inventory commonly used in research and clinical settings), blood pressure, flexibility, endurance, and strength (via a tool called a dynamometer) before and after the intervention.

After 12 weeks of regular Pilates classes, the women had a significant increase in serotonin and 34% drop in severity of depression. That level of improvement rivals the effects of some SSRIs, a class of anti-depressant medications that target serotonin’s action in the brain.

Using Pilates as a tool to control your mind is one of the primary ways to fight against depression.  Many people become depressed because they feel they are losing control of their lives. With Pilates, you are required to mentally and physically control every aspect of each exercise, giving you the mental practice to help you gain better control of other aspects of your life.

Pilates exercises perform moves that help improve muscular strength as well as relieving muscular tension. So, while performing Pilates, you’re also relaxing your body and mind.

Jessica Tremp

Pilates versus Postpartum Maternal Fatigue

A total of 80 women participated in a clinical trial into postpartum fatigue, a debilitating phenomenon affecting mothers after they have given birth.  The women were randomly divided into two groups – the intervention group and the control group. In the intervention group, the women performed Pilates exercises five times a week (30 minutes per session) for eight consecutive weeks. The first session was conducted 72 hours after delivery. The control group did not receive any intervention. Each woman’s level of fatigue was evaluated at hospital discharge (as a baseline), and at four and eight weeks after delivery, using the standard Multi-dimensional Fatigue Inventory (MFI-20) questionnaire and repeated measures analysis.

During the eight weeks of follow-up, the study found that the intervention group had lower mean MFI-20 scores than the control group meaning that Pilates was able to reduce general, physical and mental fatigue, and improve activity and motivation.

A short break from the science bits…

Pilates versus Yoga

Apologies to cat lovers and yogis everywhere!

Click on the cartoon to enlarge it…

Pilates versus yoga

Pilates versus Urinary Incontinence

A three-year pilot study at Colchester General Hospital has shown that Pilates can help people with urinary incontinence.  Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the clinical study was carried out jointly with academics from the School of Health and Human Sciences, and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Essex University.

A total of 73 women took part in the study.  All received pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle advice, with a second group also attending a six-week course of Pilates classes. Both groups were assessed at the start of the study, when they completed their treatment, and five months later. Questionnaires explored topics such as severity of symptoms, frequency of incontinence, quality of life, and self-esteem.

The study found that classes in Pilates were most beneficial to women whose symptoms were less severe. In addition, the study found there were also some benefits for those women whose condition was more serious.

The chief investigator in the pilot study was a physiotherapist at Colchester General Hospital.  The findings from the pilot study are sufficiently encouraging for the researchers to now develop a larger clinical trial, the findings from which could ultimately influence the treatment of urinary incontinence for people throughout the country.

Great to see further clinical proof of the positive benefit Pilates can have on people’s physical and mental health and well-being.

Continuing the Pilates, depression, cat theme from above, here’s Henri, le chat noir, who seems to be having a bit of an existential crisis.  Pauvre Henri!  He would definitely benefit from doing Pilates…


How Pilates Can Help With Depression

One of the most beneficial forms of exercise to stave off depression and anxiety is Pilates. Here are some key points from an interesting article on the subject, which explains how…

‘While other forms of exercise can help clear the mind, Pilates helps to ease the mind. Moira Merrithew, co-founder of Stott Pilates, says, “Pilates exercises perform moves that can almost massage the muscles. While you’re gaining muscular strength, you’ll also be relieving yourself of muscular tension, helping you become a more relaxed person. While performing Pilates, you’re also relaxing your mind.”

Suzanne Farrell

‘Many people enter into depression because they feel like they are losing control of their lives. With Pilates, you are required to mentally and physically control every aspect of the workout, giving you good mental practice to help you better control your life. Pilates requires a lot of focus. Suzanne Farrell, a ballerina from the 20th century, loved using Pilates. She once said about it, “nothing about the Pilates Method is haphazard. The reason you need to concentrate so thoroughly is so you can be in control of every aspect of every moment.”

‘Speaking more about how Pilates can help those affected by depression, Alycea Ungaro, owner of Real Pilates in New York City and author of a book on Pilates, said, “Pilates can be a mental and emotional respite for those suffering from depression, anxiety or everyday stress. Pilates forces you to focus inward for the duration of the workout by concentrating on the detail, form and execution of each exercise. Pilates can rejuvenate the mind and restore the spirit. I sometimes think the benefits are almost in line with those of meditation…we work with individuals who have had bouts of depression and anxiety. These clients walk in with a look of tension, sometimes even despair. They respond in an enormously positive way. Anxiety and depression can be overwhelming. But when you see your own body performing healthy, active and elegant moves, it restores your faith and belief in what you can achieve. A healthy self-image is incredibly positive and enormously empowering.’

Don Draper reading Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency

‘Pilates serves as a physical exercise, but also a mental nap. The ability to control your body, become more flexible and get in better shape puts you at the helm of something that you didn’t have control over before: your mind and body.’

To read the article in full, click here.

If you’d like to try Pilates to help ease any anxious or depressive thoughts you might currently be experiencing, why not come along to one of the six classes Embody Pilates’ runs at The Wellbeing Studio in Clevedon each week. Alternatively, perhaps a private Pilates session, either at the studio or in your own home might suit you better.

Don Draper meditating