Pilates and Menopause: Bone, Joint, Heart and Pelvic Floor Health
Pilates for Bone, Joint, Heart and Pelvic Floor Health in the Menopause
Movement is the BIG non-negotiable going into and beyond the menopause – we can never go wrong getting strong! However, as well as physical and emotional changes, menopause transition can, for some, present additional challenges and barriers to movement and exercise.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing the menopause and its long, long list of possible symptoms, Pilates is a highly effective and holistic approach to easing many menopausal related issues and promoting overall well being. This is because Pilates is a low impact form of exercise that focusses on optimal patterns of breathing, posture and alignment, positively impacts the bones, joints and muscles, and aids digestion and stress reduction, for whole body health.
What’s more, Pilates is suitable for any age or level of fitness and doesn't require equipment or special clothing, so you can start your Pilates journey whenever and however you can. The further ahead you start to prepare for hormonal transition, the better.
Here are just some of the benefits you might reap by practising Pilates as you move towards the next stage in life:
1. Pilates improves bone health and strength
In the three years around the menopause, levels of oestrogen and other hormones drop sharply. Because oestrogen helps maintain bone density, this drop can lead to a much faster rate of bone loss and, over time and for some, to low bone density.
Pilates can play a pivotal role in maintaining and enhancing bone health because bone is living tissue and it changes over time in response to the forces placed upon it. Pilates exercises, many of which are weight-bearing, stimulate bone growth and density. A strong core, emphasised in Pilates, contributes to better posture and support for the spine, reducing the risk of bone-related issues such as osteoporosis. Additionally, Pilates promotes balance, alignment and body awareness, all of which can help prevent falls.
"Bone health and strength training are like a bank account - start early, as no-one wants to go into their overdraft!"
Regular Pilates sessions over time can lead to gradual improvements in bone density and strength. Alongside this is also important to consider nutrition and lifestyle modifications to support bone health, such as ensuring that you have sufficient Vitamin D and calcium in your diet.
2. Pilates releases and mobilises stiff spines and sore joints
Joint pain can sometimes take us by surprise in the peri to menopause transition period – and some exercises or certain positions can start to cause discomfort.
The sharp drop hormone levels around the time of menopause gives rise to joint pain in areas such as the lower back, shoulders and knees. A very common response to discomfort is that we instinctively brace for these movements – or start to avoid certain movements or positions altogether. However, decreased movement often leads to more tension and discomfort in unmoved areas, as well as loss of muscle tone and strength.
Pilates exercises help to reduce discomfort by releasing tension and mobilising stiff, sensitive or sore joints as well as strengthening the muscles of the core to better support the musculoskeletal system as a whole. And as Pilates is a low-impact exercise, it is suitable for individuals with joint issues or those concerned about the impact of high-intensity workouts, and those who may be more susceptible to bone and joint discomfort.
Greater flexibility and range of motion can reduce the risk of joint and bone injuries and help to restore more youthful patterns of movement. The spinal column for example is built to move in all directions, with rotation in particular being hugely beneficial for the mid back as it increases our range of motion in all other planes of movement, for spine health and whole body well-being
3. Pilates is great for the pelvic floor
The pelvis is an incredibly flexible and robust structure that incorporates a number of muscles that act as a hammock for our pelvic organs, are able to absorb forces from walking and running, enable bowel movements and childbirth. The muscles of the pelvic floor need to be able to contract and shorten, as well as relax and lengthen in order for them to support all these important functions.
Pilates is a highly beneficial form of exercise for maintaining the pelvic floor. This is because Pilates exercises emphasise core strength and stability and builds awareness around the pelvic floor, enabling control over these important muscles to contract as well as relax, promoting a healthy and balanced pelvic floor.
Pilates exercises can help alleviate pelvic discomfort due to changes in hormonal levels, muscle tension or other factors by improving circulation and releasing tension in the pelvic region. Pilates can further support the pelvic floor by promoting optimal patterns of movement and posture with its focus on body awareness and alignment whilst being low impact exercise.
Pilates can be started at any age or level of fitness but in terms of pelvic health it is especially beneficial for before, during and after pregnancy, and in the perimenopause and in post menopause. This is because hormonal fluctuations place extra stresses and load on the pelvic floor and Pilates exercises help to rebuild and maintain pelvic floor strength.
Pilates is not just about physical exercises but also about mindfulness and breathing techniques. These practices can help women connect with their bodies and become more aware of their pelvic health, allowing them to identify and address any issues more effectively.
4. Pilates supports Heart health
Hormonal changes associated with menopause can have wide-ranging impacts on cardiovascular health. This is why cardiovascular disease is the theme for this year's World Menopause Day 2023.
Pilates can support cardiovascular health in numerous ways; Pilates exercises typically emphasise controlled patterns of breathing, which can enhance lung capacity and oxygen uptake, benefitting overall cardiovascular fitness. As with all forms of exercise, regular practice improves circulation, which can in turn lead to a lower resting heart rate, reducing the workload on the heart, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, which is vital for cardiovascular health. Lastly, Pilates reduces stress, helping to lower the risk of heart disease. Upper and lower body weight bearing exercises such as squats, planks and standing balance work will not only elevate the heart rate but are also very important for balance as we age.
"We can never go wrong, getting strong."
Like any exercise program, consistency in Pilates practice is essential for reaping bone, joint, heart and pelvic floor benefits. If certain exercises or positions are uncomfortable, try to modify rather than avoid. Our bodies need movement in the same way they also need water and food, so try to think of smaller movement ‘snacks’ throughout the day as well as well as longer more substantial periods of exercise. We are aging from the moment we are born, so let’s age dynamically! Once we can move well, the sky is our only limit…
In part two, we will delve deeper into how Pilates can help alleviate a number of common menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, anxiety and sleep issues.
Keen to give Pilates a try? Check out our Pilates for Menopause programme.