Just Add Water! Pilates and Challenged Populations

According to the Centers for Disease Control 70.7% of the adult population of the United States 20 and older is overweight and 36.5 % is obese. I literally said, “wow!” out loud when I read those statistics. ACSM says the fastest growing exercise population in the country is 65 and up and in 10 years it will be 85 and older. What happens to these people when they decide they need to start getting in shape, or their doctor tells them they have to start exercising? They sign up with a personal trainer, (I hate the fact that weight lifters have essentially co-opted that term), who puts them on a program, which in some cases might work, but in others does not truly address helping the client with improving their activities of daily life (ADLs).  But, we are Pilates! We emphasize process and form. Thank goodness, and we are a wonderful alternative; however lets look at those statistics again. 65 and older, the fastest growing exercise population and almost 37% of them obese.

People in group water workoutPeople in group water workout

These are people who may have significant obstacles to overcome. I have people tell me that they want to take Pilates, but even if they could get down onto the mat, they didn’t think they could get back up. They are uncomfortable/intimidated in gyms, they don’t want to be seen in exercise clothes, they are afraid of falling or just looking bad. How do we reach this population that desperately needs us?

Just add water! Specifically, Pilates in the water. Water provides more resistance than air, it makes you to work three dimensionally and for Pilates, the more buoyant you are the harder the core has to work to stabilize you. Warm water also helps free up movement potential, makes joints more mobile and makes our participants more comfortable. You can hide in the water and as silly as that sounds it is a significant benefit for people who struggle with their body image, but still want to move free.

What’s more? The balance challenged exerciser is safer in the water, if they fall, they will only get their hair wet, decreasing the amount of fear older exercisers frequently express in terms of starting an exercise program. The pool steps, railings and depth changes allows the pool to function in the same way as a piece of Pilates equipment and most importantly even the most challenged class participant can be successful in the water working within the range of their abilities. We can progress or regress any exercise for the most challenged to the most proficient exerciser, making them all successful and allowing everyone to progress from a place of individual achievement instead of working to a perceived and possibly unattainable perfect pose.

We have an ideal environment in the water to encourage sedentary, overweight and challenged populations to begin moving, to begin building strength and balance and to become confident in their bodies again. Recently I received a letter I will treasure forever. The woman who wrote was told by her doctors that she had a muscle wasting disease and that she would be confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. Working with a Poolates instructor in Michigan over the course of two years, she not only is walking on her own but is now a Poolates Basic instructor. She has to watch her fatigue levels carefully, but how terrific is that! I still cry when I read that letter.  We want to make a difference in peoples lives and the combination of water and Pilates is an effective and safe way to facilitate change for both the challenged and fit exercise population.