To achieve overall health, it is important to move the body every day. But did you know that it’s just as important to train your mind-set? According to research—and my own experience—Pilates improves our daily movements and also our psychological well-being.
One Pilates-based study I found fascinating was conducted in Germany and Portugal. Researchers examined whether practicing Pilates as a mind/body exercise would impact an individual attitude toward themselves and their health. The researchers randomly assigned 80 healthy participants, ages 25–55, to either a Pilates group or a control group. No participants had any prior Pilates experience. To remain in the trial, Pilates group members were required to attend 85 percent of the two-hour Pilates classes, which were offered four times weekly for 6 months. Sixty-two completed the study. Control group members received no training but were instructed to maintain existing physical activity levels.
At baseline, after three months and at the program’s end, an assessor (who did not know group member assignments) supervised. Data analysis showed no significant differences between the control group and the Pilates group after three months. After six months however, Pilates group members showed significant improvements in life satisfaction, total self-concept, perceptions of appreciation by others and perceptions of their own physical appearance, functionality and health status.
“The significance of the study is that the Pilates method can be used to improve a person’s quality of life, which contributes to their psychological well-being,” says lead author Ana Cruz-Ferreira, MA, an assistant professor at the department of sport and health at the University of Evora in Portugal. “And, by improving life satisfaction, physical self-concept and perception, health status improved.”
Another story of how Pilates improves quality of life comes to me from a fellow Pilates teacher named Nicole Smith who is the owner of the Classical Pilates studios from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. She sent me her story based on a 60-year-old client who had many operations on one of her feet. Nicole states, “When she first came to me, she had very poor balance and if she had to walk any distance, she had to use a stick. Her surgeon was also ready to perform another operation. So, we got started with a very normal basic Pilates workout with special focus on footwork on the Reformer. Standing footwork after the mat, standing hand weights focusing on the powerhouse more than where the arms were going and Foot Corrector work using a small ball for homework. Now, 18 months later, the doctor has said she is not in need of any more operations to continue with Pilates as it is the best her feet have ever been and she got rid of the walking stick!”
“That sounds like an improvement in quality of life to me!” exclaimed Nicole’s client.
Not only has this client improved her mobility and daily movements, but she’s gained self confidence and has reclaimed her life back, greatly improving her mind-set. “She’s a very happy person and even happier about being able to walk without a stick,” says Nicole. “She seems to be a very emotionally strong person as she has dealt with a husband with cancer, who now is in a nursing home. So every year she goes on an overseas trip to get away from it all. Being physically better makes her more confident in herself. She did not have to take the stick with her on last year’s trip and she traveled all over Europe alone. All thanks to 18 months of Pilates-based workouts.”
In my many years as a Pilates teacher, I’ve noticed an overall boost of confidence and self-worth with each client I train three times a week for a span of six months. Each student gained physical strength but also a stronger mind-set. Each session, my clients learn proper form and gain core strength, and with that strength opens up more energy, creating a psychological boost of adrenaline.
As Pilates teachers, we must understand the mechanics of proper form that Joseph Pilates has taught us. But, remember, Joe taught us that the mind plays the key role in advancing students to greater confidence levels, which in turn leads them to their next level of physical fitness. When Pilates exercises are done with true commitment, they can—and will—improve quality of life.