Pilates and Parkinson's

Pilates is a gentle and effective exercise that can help with some of the movement difficulties you might experience with Parkinson’s. 

Physiotherapists Bhanu Ramaswamy and Sarah Sessa explore some of the benefits of pilates for people with Parkinson’s.

Pilates is a low impact, controlled exercise regime. It combines elements of resistance training with movements from ballet, yoga and tai chi. It aims to build core strength and improve joint alignment, posture, flexibility and co-ordination. The breathing techniques used  can also help you relax. 

Exercises can be adapted to suit different levels and abilities, making it suitable for all ages and physical conditions.

Pilates has a lot in common with other ‘holistic’ systems of exercise, such as yoga and tai chi. They all focus on posture and flexibility. 

Pilates is slower and less energetic than some other forms of physical activity, but movements still require effort. 

How pilates is taught

You can learn pilates in small groups or as an individual. 

Many of the exercises are performed sitting or lying down on a mat or couch, and most are low impact. 

Pilates exercises are often used in physiotherapy centres to manage the physical problems experienced by people with long-term conditions, such as Parkinson's. The exercises can be adapted to suit your needs.

Key principles of pilates

Joseph Pilates (1883-1967) developed a daily routine of exercise to strengthen his own body. The exercises have developed over time, but the key principles are the same and are really helpful for people with Parkinson's: 

  • Concentration and relaxation - connecting mind and body releases tension and allows the mind to focus on each move. This can help develop body awareness and alignment.
  • Breathing - coordinating breathing with the exercises releases muscular tension and improves oxygen circulation.
  • Centre - pilates exercises teach core stability to help you maintain a good posture. For example, people with Parkinson’s often need to improve control of stiff lower back muscles before they can move onto exercises that work the arms and legs, without experiencing pain.
  • Control and co-ordination - pilates focuses on how well each movement is performed, not on speed or how many time an exercise can be repeated. By learning to work different muscles better, it means stronger ones don’t dominate.
  • Precision or isolation - the focus is on the every stage of each movement, until the movements feel natural.
  • Flow - this comes from the combination of all of the above principles and help make movements smooth and efficient.

How pilates helps with Parkinson's

The benefits of pilates come from being in tune with the movement of your body. This is done through correct breathing, spinal and pelvic alignment, and a focus on smooth, flowing movement. For people with Parkinson’s, this helps with balance.

Learning to breathe properly can reduce stress. Plus, when your movements are controlled:

  • you don't waste energy on inefficient movement
  • you won't tire as easily
  • you're at less risk of injury or pain.

As with any exercise, the more you do it, the more your skill and technique will improve. Around 15 to 30 minutes of tailored exercise, 4 times weekly, is recommended.

Try pilates for yourself

Your Parkinson’s UK local group may organise classes in your area or know of local teachers.

You could also try one of these online registers: