Pilates Beneficial for Young Women with High Blood Pressure

April 20, 2020

Pilates helps reduce high blood pressure in young women.

Approximately one in three Americans are living with high blood pressure, putting them at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. This medical condition can also shorten life expectancy, with the number of deaths due to elevated blood pressure increasing by roughly 38 percent in recent years.

In some cases, medication is required to bring the blood pressure down to a healthier range, but changes in lifestyle can often help as well. Eating a low sodium diet, cutting out cigarettes and alcohol, and reducing stress are typically recommended.

Exercising regularly can also provide beneficial blood pressure effects, and one recent study found that a particular type of exercise is especially helpful for young, obese women with this condition. It is Pilates.

Pilates for Reducing Blood Pressure in Young, Obese Women

This study was published April 1, 2020 in the American Journal of Hypertension and involved 28 women between the ages of 19 and 27 with body mass indexes (BMIs) over 30 but under 40. Each participant, who was otherwise healthy, also had elevated blood pressure. This was defined as a systolic blood pressure over 120 and diastolic blood pressure over 80.

One half of these young women participated in Mat Pilates three times per week for a total of 12 weeks. The sessions were 60 minutes each and consisted of a 10-minute warm-up, 40 minutes of Pilates (one set of 12 different exercises), and a 10-minute cool down. The remaining 14 women served as the control.

Upon completing the 12 weeks of Pilates exercises, participants in the intervention group experienced noticeable improvements in their vascular function. Specifically, they reduced their brachial-ankle pulse wave velocity (baPWV), which measures arterial stiffness. They also lowered their aortic pulse pressure, brachial systolic blood pressure, and aortic systolic blood pressure while raising their plasma nitric oxide levels.

Pilates and Body Fat

This study also found that the young women who engaged in Pilates also reduced their body fat percentage. Initially, the average body fat percentage of the intervention group was 44.7 but, at the end of the 12 weeks, it was 42.6. This was even though their energy intake increased slightly, raising from around 2,545 kcal per day to 2,588 kcal. The control group's body fat remained the same.

Based on these findings, Pilates appears to offer young, obese women two distinct benefits. The first is healthier vascular function and the second is reduced body fat. Though further research is recommended, engaging in Pilates regularly is a simple lifestyle change that can potentially help this demographic live a longer, healthier life.

Wong A, Figueroa A, Fischer SM, Bagheri R, Park SY. The Effects of Mat Pilates Training on Vascular Function and Body Fatness in Obese Young Women With Elevated Blood Pressure. American Journal of Hypertension. 2020 Apr 1. pii: hpaa026. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpaa026. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 32236522.