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Pilates is a low-impact exercise method dedicated to improving physical and mental health. It is a system of body control which teaches people how to use their muscles more efficiently by realigning and correcting poor body posture.

Pilates focuses on building strong abdominal and back muscles (the core muscles) to increase flexibility and agility, and at the same time tone stomach and thigh muscles, whilst improving posture.

Pilates is based on eight principles:

  • relaxation
  • alignment
  • control
  • precision
  • routine
  • breathing
  • centering
  • flowing movement. 

It is not aerobic, although Pilates does require effort, and involves a lot of mat work and deep abdominal muscle work. It is gentle and generally safe provided it is taught by a qualified teacher who understands your situation.

How can it help in Parkinson's?

There is very limited research into the benefits of Pilates for Parkinson’s and each person will react differently to the therapy. Many people say it helps to relieve the stresses of everyday life, offering a chance to relax and focus while strengthening and toning the body. Stretching muscles through Pilates exercises may release tension and pain, and can trigger natural sleep responses. However further clinical studies are needed to prove if there are any clear benefits for people with Parkinson’s.

Pilates can increase your strength and stamina by toning and stretching the abdominal muscles. In strengthening the core muscles and re-aligning the spine, Pilates can improve your posture and balance, thereby reducing the number of falls and injuries.

This therapy is thought to help with poor brain-body integration, as is common in Parkinson’s. The messages the brain sends through the spine and surrounding muscles (the central nervous system) will work more effectively if your central nervous system is functioning well. This should mean that motor function and coordination improve.

Breathing techniques are also an important part of Pilates, helping the delivery of oxygen to the body as well as boosting energy levels.

If you find some of the moves difficult then discuss this with your teacher as they will be able to suggest how you can adapt techniques to suit your needs.

What should I expect at a Pilates session?

Pilates is not regulated in many countries so some teachers may have had little training and may not be insured. It is therefore a good idea to ask your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations. Friends, family, other people with Parkinson’s or your national Parkinson’s association may also be able to advise based on personal experience.

It is advisable to see a teacher who has experience of Parkinson’s so do ask about their experience of the condition as well as their qualifications.

Pilates can take place in many settings, for example in a sports centre, at your home or the practitioner’s home. Sessions can be on a one-to-one basis or in a group class. Classes will generally try to match ability so make sure that you find the right level if you join a group session.

Before your first class you should discuss your medical history and any specific problems you have with your teacher. It is important to tell them of any injuries or disabilities you may have. The length of sessions varies, usually between 30-60 minutes.

Low repetition, low impact stretching and conditioning exercises will be taught on a mat and often no further equipment is involved. You may need to provide your own mat.

If you are unable or prefer not to use a mat, check with the teacher first about any alternative techniques to help your individual needs. In specialised Pilates studios spring resistance equipment may be offered so do check when booking any class what equipment is involved.

You will need to wear clothing that you find easy to move and stretch in.

You can practice Pilates at home on your own but this should be only once you have learned all the moves from a trained instructor.

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