Hormones are your body's chemical messengers. They play a crucial role in bodily functions, such as growth, repair, and reproduction, while largely influencing metabolism, the immune system, and mood. Current research shows there are roughly 50 hormones within the human body, such as insulin, cortisol, and progesterone. Promising studies show that low-impact exercise, such as Pilates, may help balance hormone levels while supporting overall well-being. Read our guide to dive deeper into balancing hormones, along with effective Pilates exercises to help.
Understanding hormonal balance
Hormonal balance describes a state in which the endocrine system secretes and maintains stable levels of hormones within the body. This allows all major organs, muscles, and tissues to carry out essential physiological functions, such as respiration, movement, and metabolism. A meta-analysis of studies evaluating the effects of physical activity in women has concluded that regular physical activity induced a decrease in circulating sex hormones. Such effects may be particularly beneficial in women with increased levels of sex hormones. Specifically, Pilates' low-impact nature may be supportive of hormonal health by helping to reduce stress and potentially boosting feel-good hormones.
A small study based on Pilates training in healthy older women shows it may increase cognitive functioning, decrease BMI (body mass index), and support mental health.
Can Pilates help regulate hormonal fluctuations?
Pilates is a mind-body exercise system using controlled and precise movements to promote strength, flexibility, and stability. It emphasizes breath, technique, alignment, and flow. Pilates may reduce stress on the body while improving overall physical and mental well-being. A small study evaluating the effects of Pilates breath technique in individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease reported that it increases oxygenation (how quickly oxygen gets delivered to tissues, muscles, and organs). As deep breathing exercises have been previously linked to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, the Pilates breathing technique may in turn also be hypothesized to reduce the body's hormonal response to stress.
A small study evaluating the effects of Pilates in women with multiple sclerosis has highlighted the benefits of practicing Pilates as a holistic alternative therapy for improving hormone (prolactin and cortisol) secretion and supporting physical and mental health.
Effective Pilates exercises for hormone regulation
Here are some exercises that might be effective for balancing your hormones.
Lateral thoracic breathing
- Lie on your back, feet roughly under your knees, and hands wrapped around the side ribs.
- Inhale. Expand your ribcage out to the sides as if you are filling up like a balloon.
- Exhale. Feel the ribs draw back in toward your center; your hands can gently press them in.
- Repeat 5 deep breaths. Keep your shoulders down to avoid shallow breathing.
- Lie on your back, legs bent, feet roughly under your knees, arms long by your sides.
- Inhale. Create a pocket of air under the lower back. Exhale, imprint your lower spine into the mat and start to peel the tailbone. Then, spine off the mat, lifting your hips toward the ceiling. Inhale, hold. Keep ribs soft.
- Exhale, slowly roll your spine back down to the mat, bone by bone.
- Repeat 4–6 repetitions.
Single leg stretch
- Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip-width apart, arms by your sides.
- To get into position, exhale as you gently float one leg, then the other, up to a tabletop. Interlace your hands on the left shin as you press it into your hand — this will assist you up into a ‘c curve’ position. Inhale.
- Exhale, extend your right leg out in front of you, hovering it above the mat, pointing through your foot. Inhale on the switchover.
- Exhale as your left leg extends, bringing your hands onto the right shin.
- Repeat 12 alternating repetitions.
- Lie comfortably on your back, feet under your knees, arms by your sides.
- Gently reach one leg, then the other, up to a tabletop position — shins parallel to the ceiling and knees in line with hips.
- Place your hands on your shins, pressing them into the hands until you curl your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat into your ‘c curve.’
- Reach your arms out in front, hovering above the mat, palms down, and shoulders away from the ears.
- Simultaneously pump the arms up and down as you inhale: two, three, four, five. Exhale: two, three, four, five.
- Repeat until you reach 50 to 100 counts.
- Begin on all fours, hands under shoulders, and knees under hips. Maintain a lengthened neutral spine while imprinting shins into the mat.
- Inhale. Exhale and simultaneously extend your right arm in front and left leg behind. Keep the hips squared off to the mat.
- Inhale. Come back to the center. Exhale. Switch to the other side. Maintain stability throughout.
- Keep alternating for 12 repetitions.
Benefits of incorporating Pilates into hormone wellness
Hormonal fluctuations or imbalances may occur during different life stages, which is natural. Women experience decreased levels of progesterone and estrogen during the follicular phase (first half) of their menstrual cycle. If, however, significant imbalances occur, it may affect mood, the presence of abdominal cramps, and fatigue. It’s important to keep stress levels low here.
Pilates may help reduce cortisol levels through emphasis on breath and a mind-body connection. Pilates may also improve spine alignment and posture, which may potentially reduce menstrual pain. A study evaluating the relationship between pelvic alignment and menstrual pain has shown that women with maladjusted pelvic alignment experienced greater pain during their periods.
How long does it take to balance hormones?
Balancing hormones can take time, largely depending on the individual. There’s no quick fix. Firstly, it’s useful to think of possible causes. Lifestyle factors, such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress levels, maybe a good place to start. Underlying health conditions can also affect hormone levels, so getting checked by a healthcare professional may be helpful. Life stages, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can all affect hormone levels. Think about how you can best support your body during this time. Focus on adequate sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and regulating stress levels. A Mediterranean diet and gut-friendly foods, such as kefir or sauerkraut, may also contribute to keeping hormone levels balanced.
Balancing hormone levels can take time — your journey is unique to you. Focus on a healthy lifestyle and try practicing Pilates for physical and mental well-being. Be patient with yourself, and remember — consistency is key.
Hormones act as the body's messengers, telling it what to do and when. A harmonious balance allows for optimal physiological functioning.
Hormone imbalances may be caused by stress, lack of sleep or exercise, poor nutrition, pregnancy, and medical conditions.
Potential symptoms of hormonal imbalance include high blood pressure, trouble losing weight, irregular menstrual cycles, and fertility issues.
Regular low-intensity Pilates exercises may help improve hormonal health and overall physical and mental well-being.
Improving lifestyle factors, such as sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress levels, may help balance hormone levels.
- The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. The effect of pilates training on hormonal and psychophysical function in older women.
- Breast Cancer Research. Effect of physical activity on sex hormones in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science. The relationship between pelvic alignment and dysmenorrhea.
- Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. Respiratory pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and pilates breathing in COPD subjects.
- Journal of Clinical Medicine. Effects of tele-pilates and tele-yoga on biochemicals, physical, and psychological parameters of females with multiple sclerosis.