As we try to stop the spread of COVID-19 within our communities, staying at home has become the “new normal” for most folks around the globe—at least for the time being. From interruptions to our daily routines to worries over our health or the health of loved ones, coping with the reality of a pandemic can have implications on all aspects of our wellbeing.
On the bright side, there are plenty of strategies that we can add to our “toolbox” to help us keep up our mental, cognitive, and physical health while at home. One important tool to keep handy is exercise! You likely saw that recommendation coming, but this super strategy is so important because it can influence all aspects of health (1-4).
Another great thing about exercise is that it can be done in different settings, not just at the gym! It also comes in a variety of forms, meaning most people can find something that interests them, such as resistance training, aerobic exercise, and other non-traditional exercises like Pilates or yoga. In the absence of access to community-based exercise facilities and in-person classes, Pilates and yoga are two examples of mind-body exercises (5;6) that you can do right from the comfort of your own home, using an online class for example.
Pilates is defined by characteristics such as flowing movements, and an emphasis on posture, breathing, control, flexibility, and concentration (5;7). Similarly, yoga focuses on postures and movements—such as stretches and holds—coupled with breathing exercises and meditation (6). What’s more, you can alter both exercises to match your abilities, limitations, and preferences. Adjustments can include modifying the level of difficulty or using supports such as chairs or straps (6;7). With a check mark for accessibility and a check mark for adaptability, just what health benefits do these particular exercises offer?
What the research tell us
Two systematic reviews, one on Pilates and the other on yoga, looked at the benefits of these exercises on various aspects of physical and mental wellbeing, as well as quality of life (6;7).
The first review found that in older adults, Pilates may have a large impact when it comes to improving physical function—for example walking speed, muscle strength, and the ability to accomplish daily activities (such as putting on clothes or walking around the house). Pilates has also been shown to boost mood, by reducing depressive symptoms, and quality of life (7). Aspects such as, dynamic balance (staying balanced while moving around or changing positions), static balance (staying balanced when in an upright position but without moving feet) (7;8), and flexibility may also see small to moderate improvements. In terms of safety, the authors of the review do note that no side effects were reported as a result of practicing Pilates, and suggest that it’s a safe mode of exercise for older adults. Ultimately, the results around Pilates are encouraging, but larger studies looking at more similar outcomes are needed to lend further support on its benefits (7).
The second review found that older adults who participated in yoga had a moderate improvement in health-related quality of life and a small increase in mental well-being, compared to those who did not practice yoga. Health-related quality of life takes into consideration physical, mental, emotional, and social functioning, and how these areas impact a person’s health overall. On the other hand, mental-wellbeing looks at whether a person functions well psychologically, and views themselves as being happy and satisfied with life. When it comes to safety, the authors of the review do note that no serious side effects were reported, and yoga was viewed as a safe mode of exercise overall. Again, despite the positive results seen here, more research is still needed to determine the best style of yoga to do, and how much yoga is needed to reap the benefits (6).
Tips and tricks for practicing Pilates and yoga at home!
- Be careful and realistic! If you’re a beginner to Pilates or Yoga, consider connecting with a physiotherapist or registered kinesiologist to discuss if either exercise is a good option for you, as well as considerations to keep in mind while trying them (e.g., your health status, mobility restrictions, adjustments that can be made, and risks). But do note that response times from health care providers will likely be longer than usual due to COVID-19. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, be mindful of your health status, abilities, and limitations, and adjust how you engage in these activities accordingly. Starting slow is always a good strategy.
- Think digital! Dust off your old Pilates or yoga DVDs. If you don’t own any, see if you can reserve an online version from your local library. Purchasing one online is another possibility. The internet can also be a great place to find instructor guided Pilates or yoga videos and even online classes to get the benefits of following along with a professional and having a visual aid. A number of mobile apps also exist to help get you started.
- Do your homework! When seeking out instructional DVDs, videos, classes or apps, make sure to look into the program being offered or the instructor running the session. Ask yourself: what are the instructor’s credentials and experience, are there reviews of the DVD, online exercise program or App, what do comments on the videos say, and are these resources appropriate for those who may be new to this type of exercise?