APMA Education Corner - Musings on Mindfulness in Pilates and Healthy Ageing

Musings on Mindfulness in Pilates and Healthy Ageing.

Bought to you by Megan Williams, APMA Education Committee

As Pilates devotees, we are familiar with the concept of the mind-body connection and the relationship between mental health and physical health. The positive impact of physical activity (PA) on mood has long been recognised, as has the positive impact of PA on cognitive function into older age [Parra, Wetherell, van Zandt, Brownson, Abhishek & Lenze, 2019].

In 2018, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare predicts that by 2047, there will be around 3.4million people aged between 64-74 and that 20% of older people will be aged over 85 years [AIHW, 2018]. On current trends, by 2057 the proportion of people aged over 65 will account for 22% of the total population rising to 25% by 2097. These demographics will be reflected in Studio/client populations.  Additional outcomes of PA, regardless of age, are increased levels of self-esteem, positive self-image in and strength. Body awareness is increased with PA. While in some contexts, this can be seen as a negative, positive aspects of body-awareness and recognising sensations may aid in appropriate responses.

Mindfulness and Cognitive performance:

The effect of mindfulness and breathwork audio exercises on alpha wave activity were examined via EEG administration (Bing-Canar, Pizzuto & Compton, 2016). This study found increased overall alpha power, attentional control and self-monitoring on a Stroop test, post mindfulness-breathwork exercise compared to the control group. Enhanced error detection in the test group is indicative of improved self-monitoring.

Body Awareness and Pilates:

In older adults (65years and over) current Government guidelines, it is recommended an individual should try to accumulate 30 minutes of moderate intensity PA on most, if not all days. This is the minimum for cardio, skeletal, muscular and psychological health maintenance.

PA has been found to have positive impact on mental health issues, on mood state, neurological dysfunction and as previously mentioned, cognitive function and delaying age related cognitive decline (including attentional control (Tihanyi, Sagi, Csala, Tolnai & Köteles, 2016). In this study, after 6 months of practice, Pilates was associated with higher body awareness than activities such as ball room dancing or aerobic exercise.

Other benefits from Mindfulness and exercise in older populations

Parra, et al (2019) study, while not examining Pilates per se, rather they examined the impact of mindfulness-based stress relief (MBSR) practice and exercise on older individuals. They compared three conditions: MBSR, exercise and combined MBSR and exercise together. Improvements in various aspects of daily life were reported in all 3 groups. In Exercise and MBSR plus Exercise groups, improvement in strength, mobility, flexibility was reported (important for falls prevention). MBSR alone group reported improved family and social interactions. Similar positive social /personal interactions were reported by the MBSR plus Exercise group and the Exercise group.

Take Home Message:

The subjects in the Parra et al study were all retirees. A recurring theme from the subjects related to the importance of the social and structured nature of all the activities. This is important to note. The importance of some semblance of routine, once no longer “chained to the office”, regular contact with those who have similar interests, impacts on wellbeing. Being “connected”, having the opportunity to make new friendship groups and remain socially engaged are important for ongoing mental health. As the general population ages, the role of the studio and instructor needs to adapt to meet the needs of the aging population.


Bing-Canar, H., Pizzuto, J. & Compton, R. J. (2016) Mindfulness-of-Breathing exercise modulates EEG alpha activity during cognitive performance, Psychophysiology, 53, 1366-1376.

Parra, D.C., Wetherell, J. L., van Zandt, A., Browson, R. C., Abhishek, J., & Lenze, E. J. (2019)

A qualitative study of older adults’ perspectives on initiating exercise and mindfulness practice. BMC Geriatrics, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-019-1375-9

Tihanyi, B. T., Sági, A., Csala, B., Tolnai, N. & Köteles, F. (2016). Body awarensess, mindfulness and affect. European Journal of Mental Health, 11, 97-111

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Older Australians at a glance.


Australian Government Department of Health. Physical Activity Recommendations for Older Australians (/INTERNET/PUBLICATIONS/PUBLISHING.NSF/CONTENT/PHD-PHYSICAL/CHOOSE HEALTH-L)