You may soon be prescribed Pilates for prolonged covid

i amIf you’ve been battling Covid for a long time, a new study shows there may be a surprising path to recovery: Pilates.

Research, published Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary ApproachIt found that long-term Covid sufferers – those who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and reported shortness of breath and fatigue since being discharged – had a staggering 34 percent increase in lung function after an eight-week Pilates program.

More specifically, those who participated in the Aqua Pilates course improved their lung function by 34.7 percent, while those who did traditional Pilates improved by 32.3 percent. There was a significant improvement in quality of life for both groups.

Study co-author Ken Clarke, associate professor of epidemiology and statistics at Coventry University in the UK, said the findings were “clinically significant” and “represented a “quite large increase”.

The initial study has been met with positive feedback in the scientific community, which currently lacks research on prolonged COVID rehabilitation. “I was quite surprised at how beneficial it was in improving lung function. A 32 percent improvement would be huge,” says Enya DanesClinical Physiotherapist and Covid Rehabilitation at Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.

Why is Pilates so good for lung function?

Existing research shows that during Pilates training, several muscle groups are involved, including those involved in breathing, which can help improve pulmonary (lung) function. A 2015 pre-epidemiological study found that eight weeks of Pilates training improved lung capacity and abdominal muscle thickness in inactive women.

Today, as the pandemic continues, it is worth noting that Pilates is a low-risk activity in terms of contamination because mat-based classes rely on body weight rather than equipment and can easily be conducted remotely.

Why is Aqua Pilates more effective?

When looking at why the aqua pilates group showed more improvement than the standard pilates group, the researchers believe that the added resistance that the water provides was additionally beneficial. Walking in water forces the muscles involved in breathing and movement to work harder with little added risk of stress on the muscles or stress on the joints.

This mirrors the results of previous studies that found that water training improved respiratory muscle strength and lung capacity to a greater extent than working out on land, due to the viscosity and resistance of water.

What types of exercise have similar effects?

Just because Pilates was the method studied in this study doesn’t mean other forms of exercise won’t have similar effects, the authors acknowledge.

“I think it’s fair to say—I don’t know—but perhaps some similar low-impact exercise that engages pulmonary function would probably produce something comparable,” Clark says. But for people with prolonged covid who may suffer from severe fatigue, pilates and aqua pilates are good forms of low-intensity exercise, he adds.

Meanwhile, the improvements in quality of life found in the study were attributed to the positive effects of Pilates training in reducing depression and improving mental health due to the release of the “happy” mood hormone serotonin. But arguably any form of physical activity can have a similar effect. For example, a 2010 study of coronary heart patients who did six weeks of moderate circuit training improved their quality of life and reduced depression.

“There will be other benefits from other exercises. We’ve seen similar increases in breathing and quality of life with treadmill walking and cycling,” Denes said.

Should I take Pilates?

Clarke is keen to stress that the study was conducted on middle-aged participants who were inactive and overweight, so the results may not be as significant for people who are already fit and active.

“Pilates and aqua pilates are a good first step,” Clark says, but she adds, “take the results as positive, but take them with a pinch of salt.”

He also explains that the best improvement can be seen early in training. “It’s unlikely that if you do it for another eight weeks, you’re going to see another 20 to 30 percent improvement. You’re not going to improve linearly,” he adds.

Denes argues that any type of activity is beneficial, but it’s important that people recovering from prolonged Covid can engage in something they enjoy — and Pilates isn’t for everyone.

“It all needs to be applied with caution because Covid is so complex and multifaceted,” she says “Usually it’s about getting back to activity. It doesn’t have to be Pilates. It’s about doing more exercise within your current limitations and not pushing yourself to exhaustion. Gradually increase activity and exercise, keeping your symptoms in mind.”

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