Pilates Tied to Improved CV Health in Young Obese Women

Veronica Hackethal, MD

April 07, 2020

A new study demonstrating the health benefits of Pilates may help lighten the mood for people stuck at home as a result of social distancing because of COVID-19.

The small study randomized young obese women with high blood pressure to mat Pilates classes for 12 weeks or no exercise; those in the active group had significantly improved measures of cardiovascular risk at the end of the intervention.

"Our findings provide evidence that mat Pilates benefits cardiovascular health by decreasing blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and body fatness in young obese women with elevated blood pressure," say Alexei Wong, PhD, an assistant professor at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, and colleagues.

Pilates Gaining in Popularity, Tends to Appeal to Women

Young obese women are at increased risk for early onset metabolic syndrome and other cardiovascular risk factors that may lead to cardiovascular events at an earlier age, they note in their publication in the American Journal of Hypertension.

And although research suggests that both aerobic exercise and resistance training may improve blood pressure, many obese women drop out of these types of exercise programs, they observe.

Mat Pilates has recently gained in popularity worldwide and tends to appeal to women, particularly as many celebrities have endorsed the exercise. It focuses on controlled breathing, flexibility, posture, and strengthening core muscles using body weight and external resistance.

However, few studies have evaluated whether mat Pilates can improve vascular function, including blood pressure, and body composition in obese women.

To study these issues, Wong and colleagues conducted a randomized trial among 28 young obese women aged 19-27 years with a BMI of 30-40 kg/m2. The women had pre-existing hypertension but no other chronic health conditions, and they were nonsmokers.

However, they were sedentary, reporting less than 90 minutes of exercise per week. Fourteen women were randomized to the mat Pilates intervention, which lasted 12 weeks and consisted of three 1-hour training sessions per week taught by a certified instructor. The remaining 14 women did no exercise.

Each Pilates session had three stages: initial warm-up and stretching (10 minutes), general mat Pilates exercises (40 minutes), and cool down (10 minutes). Training gradually increased in intensity, with the number of repetitions increasing over 12 weeks.

At baseline and 12 weeks, the researchers measured the effects of the exercise intervention on body fatness and various physiologic parameters related to blood pressure.

Systolic blood pressure measured at the arm decreased by 5 mmHg in the mat Pilates group, compared with no change in the control group; likewise, body fatness decreased by about 2% compared with no alteration (P < .05 for both).

Other measures of cardiovascular risk also significantly improved in the mat Pilates group but did not change in the control group.

These included reduced systemic arterial stiffness at the end of 12 weeks compared with baseline (P < .05) and lower aortic systolic blood pressure, which decreased by 6 mmHg (P < .05). Meanwhile, plasma nitric oxide levels significantly increased in the exercise group (P < .05).

"Because adherence to traditional exercise (both aerobic and resistance) is low in obese individuals, mat Pilates training might prove an effective exercise alternative for the prevention of hypertension and cardiovascular events in young obese adults," say the researchers.

Future studies should cover greater frequency of training and for longer periods, they add.

The authors have reported no relevant financial relationships.

Am J Hypertens. Published online April 1, 2020. Abstract

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