COVID-19 – Can Pilates help the nurses deal with this pandemic?

COVID-19 – Can Pilates help the nurses deal with this pandemic?

With the recent pandemic of COVID-19 hitting the globe and affecting nearly 250,000 people to date, there is a growing scare that nurses would contract the virus, having fatal implications on their own health.  With the recurrent stresses of their jobs, immune systems will run low, creating an environment which is susceptible for the spread of such disease.

How could nurses learn from this and ensure their optimal health for their future and the future of their families? One word springs to mind – self care!

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” – Ben Franklin.

It is a myth that taking care of yourself as a nurse is selfish. Rather, the opposite is true; you need to keep yourself healthy through self-care so you can care for others. If you neglect yourself, you run the risk of contracting communicable diseases, developing chronic conditions and suffering from other conditions. You are also likely to feel tense and irritable, so self-care in nursing should be a top priority. As a nurse, you are vital to our healthcare industry. However, multiple risk factors including patient handling, shift work, constant sleep deprivation and demanding work conditions, makes it one of the most hazardous work professions for maintaining physical and mental health.

Being a nurse can be mentally and emotionally draining. That stress can lead to many symptoms and illnesses. To counteract tension and anxiety, you need to make stress management and mental health habits part of your daily routine. Many of the strategies that improve your physical health, such as a nutritious diet, exercise and adequate sleep, also contribute to your mental health.

In addition, activities like meditation, relaxation and recreation can do wonders for your mental health. Being around other people and building healthy relationships is also beneficial from a mental health standpoint.

Self-care in nursing goes hand-in-hand with patient care, so heed these tips, and you will be on your way to improving both your own and your patients’ health.

This is where Pilates comes in!

Pilates as a method has many psychological benefits for nurses including:

Pilates lets you control your emotions.

Our emotions and breathing are closely connected. A recent study by Pierre Phillipot (as cited by Psychology Today) showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct breathing patterns. Think of how your breathing changes when you face something frightening as opposed to something pleasant. As a nurse, think of dealing with the constant anxiety and panic reflected in patients when things go wrong and just notice how this makes you feel. Do you notice a change in your breath pattern? Then think of an experience which calms you down.. like an amazing massage with beautiful smells of Frangipani or Jasmin.. see how slow your breathing now gets. There is no major breakthrough in this finding, just common sense.

However, the interesting part of the study was that different breathing patterns evoke certain emotions. You can basically breathe yourself into calmness or anxiety.

“Above all, learn to breathe correctly” ~ Joseph Pilates

Breath is one of the six fundamental Pilates principles. Learning to control your breath is probably the biggest benefit of Pilates since many of us are “lazy-breathers”. The techniques that you learn in a Pilates class can also be used in different life situations to calm your mind or get through a stressful situation. The Pilates breath is deep and lateral, expanding the lungs and strengthening the diaphragm, which can help make long shifts, or periods of prolonged physical activity more comfortable, through the use of correct breathing techniques. Proper lateral breathing aids in stress management and handling difficult situations.

Calm mind and emotions with Pilates.

You have probably heard a lot about the benefits of mindfulness meditation for your mind and body. To sum them up, meditation:

  • relieves anxiety and depression,
  • helps treat insomnia, especially after a long, hard night shift
  • sharpens the mind, to combat the exhaustion you get from dealing with the constant negativity you encounter at hospital
  • uncovers creative thinking, to enable you to handle challenging situations more clearly and with more empowerment
  • relieves stress, as though it is an internal shower
  • reduces negative emotions and changes your negative emotions to more optimistic, heartening ones
  • helps fight addictions and instil positive habits,
  • lowers blood pressure and improve cardio vascular health.

When most of us think about meditation we imagine a Buddhist monk or a New Age person chanting in solitude. But perhaps we are wrong as we envision only one way that mindfulness can enter our lifestyle.

Pilates lets you concentrate your attention on one thing – your body. Whether you want it or not, you have to clear your mind of any distractions if you are performing Pilates coordination work on the Reformer or if you are just visualizing an inner spring in your core that your instructor is talking about.

Pilates lets you reap all the benefits of meditation without actually sitting still and feeling like you are wasting your time.

Mindful Movement helps release emotional tension.

Any mind/body professional can tell a lot about your personality by simply looking at your posture and observing your movement. Over time we store our emotions and anxieties in our body. We clench our jaws when we want to yell, slouch when we feel inferior or shy, and tighten our hips to suppress emotions of sadness and fear. My experience of nurses and doctors is that they have the forward head posture where their head is in front of their trunk and a hyper kyphosis of the upper back due to the constant bending forward to see to patients.  Their typical posture would also be rounded shoulders, again, closing their emotions and holding the stress in their shoulders.  Many nurses come in with neck and shoulder pain due to tensions and stresses.
Pilates practice lets you release your muscles and gain control of the deep core muscles that tend to be closely connected to your emotional baggage. When you release muscles that hold your emotional tension you also let go of the emotional baggage that you’ve been carrying around for who knows how long.

A lot of nurses complain about stress and burnout, can Pilates help manage these?

  • You have probably heard about the famous “fight-or-flight” response to stressful situations. When confronted with a stressful situation (real, like almost getting in a car wreck or imaginative, like fear of relating bad news to a patient’s relatives or dealing with the death of a patient) our body releases a wave of stress hormones to prime our body to fight or flee.
  • In a stressful situation our body is ready to move at its peak performance but in most modern-day scenarios we can’t run away when dealing with the excessive stresses experienced in dealing with patients and doctors at the hospital and can’t pick a fight with our boss. Physical activity is supposed to metabolize the build-up of stress hormones but instead we try to keep everything inside and work our way through it.
  • The result? Stress hormones settle in our body causing hypertension, muscle spasms and pain.
  • Pilates relieves tension built up in the muscles through gentle stretching and gradual conditioning. An energetic Jumpboard workout on the Universal Reformer will let you metabolize stress hormones built up in your muscles. And fascial release techniques that we use in our classes today will help you loosen tight muscles that are not responsive to passive stretching. When you get stress out of your body, you also get it out of your mind.

“A body free from nervous tension and fatigue is the ideal shelter provided by nature for housing a well-balanced mind, fully capable of successfully meeting all the complex problems of modern living.” ~Joseph Pilates

  • Pilates tames your stress.
  • While it’s important to drive stress out of your body, it’s even more important to prevent stress from entering your mind. If you don’t address the cause of stress (the way you perceive situations and respond to them) you won’t be able to have lasting stress relief.
  • Pilates has been proven time and time again to be a powerful stress reliever because it is taught as a mindful movement practice and not just as a fast-paced gym workout.
  • Several recent studies have found the positive effects of regular Pilates practice on stress reduction and improved wellbeing.
  • The Pilates movement embodies steadiness and ease, they teach you to find opposition inside your body and use it to gain greater control of the body.
  • Another group of studies published in Pilates Style magazine, showed the stress-reducing benefits of regular and even a one-time Pilates session. According to the authors, the physical challenge of a particular movement becomes the equivalent of a stressor, especially in an intermediate and advanced Pilates session which is focused on the flowing transitions. When physical demands are met with steady breathing and mindfulness the nervous system responds by maintaining activation while keeping an underlying sense of calm. This response lets us face our day-to-day stress with clarity and respond to it without getting overwhelmed.


  • Pilates makes you happier.
  • If you love Pilates then it will make you happier.
  • When our body is positively stressed, like when you go through a favourite workout, endorphins are released into the body that make us feel good. If you enjoy your workout and stay focused on it instead of letting your mind wander somewhere else you will feel happy and calm at the end. During our Pilates sessions, our teachers work hard to ensure that every single person in the class is engaged and focusing completely on what they are doing. They cannot be thinking about their patient, the stress at work or what they need to cook on that day as their attention relies totally on their movement and the equipment. Since we work on specialised equipment which can be dangerous if used inappropriately, the student has no other choice but to regulate their mind to the session, thus end up with a great workout, releasing their negative emotions and boosting their endorphins and making them feel happier!


“Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness” ~Joseph Pilates


What are the physical benefits of Pilates, and how can these help nurses?

No doubt about it, nursing is an extremely demanding profession. Not only is it mentally demanding, but physically demanding as well. After a stressful 12-hour shift working out is the last thing a nurse may want to do because their body aches from a hard days’ work. Keeping healthy by working out is something all nurses know to do, but just don’t, either because of the long hours or the feeling of being hit by a truck after their shift.

Incorporating a Pilates routine a few times a week can help decrease strain, strengthen muscles and prevent potential work-related injuries. Take these benefits of a regular Pilates routine into consideration:

No impact: This is a no-brainer when it comes to working out. As a nurse your body probably takes a pounding during an average shift. Your workouts shouldn’t cause more damage to your body than an average workday.

Pilates uses your own body weight as resistance for the workouts so you don’t have to worry about any jarring movements causing damage to your body.

Increased flexibility: Pilates incorporates many stretches that, over time, will increase your flexibility. Flexibility is important since nurses typically do lots of bending and stooping during their shift. Additionally, range-of-motion exercises will enhance joint and muscle movement, which will increase your flexibility and help you move better and perform daily activities with greater ease and less pain.

Strengthen core: The transverse abdominis is a deep core muscle that works with surrounding abdominal muscles to support your spine and pelvis. Learning the correct activation of this muscle will help prevent back pain, and help you learn how to activate it while at work (or undertaking other daily tasks) so you don’t get back pain whilst caring for patients.

Siddhi et. al. (2018) concluded that Pilates exercises were efficient in treating non-specific back pain in nurses and nursing students.

Pilates has been proven to be the best core strengthening form of exercises (even better than Yoga) because it reaches the deep muscles (multifidi) connected to your spine.

Improve posture: When you strengthen your core, your back is automatically stronger as well. Having a strong core and back helps nurses when you have a job that involves a lot of lifting and physically assisting patients. In addition, an improved posture gives makes you stand taller and gives an illusion of weight loss.

Tone: Although Pilates is a no impact workout it does allow for full body toning. Pilates makes one more aware of their body in general and the muscles used to carry out movements during a workout. Most all exercises in Pilates involve very slow and controlled movements meaning that you must also contract your core at all times. Small, slow, controlled movements can help tone your body in ways you would have never imagined. Studio Pilates (with equipment) exercises can help you maintain correct posture at home and at work, which will decrease back pain and prevent pain from reoccurring.


A lot of nurses’ experience injury at work from lifting patients, can Pilates help manage these? 

  • Nursing is a physically demanding profession, with most nurses spending a large proportion of their working lives physically assisting patients:  reaching over patients to administer medication and dress wounds; rolling patients; bending to wash, shower and dry patients; kneeling to help.  So, it’s not surprising that acute back pain is a prevalent occupational health problem in the nursing profession.


  • The Pilates workout using springs will help strengthen the core to compensate for the heavy load and teach you how to lift your patients appropriately, thus reducing the load on your back.


  • Pilates is Functional Movement – the alignment principles you learn during your sessions in the studio will help you keep the foot, knee, hip and shoulder stability in order to maximise the functionality of your daily movements, thus reducing strain on your back and neck.


  • Studio Pilates practised with a qualified teacher on specialised equipment will help to ensure they prevent this back pain becoming a chronic problem for nurses, and even to prevent it occurring in the first place.


Ultimately Pilates teaches you to be yourself.

The modern world puts us under a lot of stress because we constantly feel the need to conform to certain standards. We constantly have to push our boundaries to meet a deadline, be a better parent or look an act according to modern-day standards. This time, more than ever, with the outbreak of COVID-19, nurses and the rest of the medical professional are under an unsurpassed level of stress and need reassurance that they will manage to survive this huge responsibility on their shoulders.

Joseph Pilates was around during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic as a German prisoner of war on the Isle of Man. At the time, a terrible, epidemic of influenza swept the world, killing millions of people, tens of thousands in England. None of Joe’s followers succumbed even though the camps were the hardest hit!

Pilates teaches us to respect our body and be content with it. Pilates practice is focused on working within your range of motion and building up your strength and flexibility gradually. Interesting enough, once we become confident in what we are doing we find strength and motivation to move to the next level. However, our progress is not propelled by comparing ourselves to someone else but rather by setting our personal standards and priorities that are meaningful to us.

When we learn to respect our bodies this way, we also learn to do the same with everything else in our lives. We start living according to our priorities and desires, instead of keeping up with our colleagues / neighbours!

Become more confident.

Pilates is all about good posture and proper body alignment. Of course, good posture is important for your health but you will also gain the confidence benefit from it.

“Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self confidence follows.”~Joseph Pilates

If you didn’t have enough reasons to try Pilates or to fit another class into your schedule then hopefully you do now.

Studio Pilates with one of our qualified Pilates instructors at Pilates Centre Malta will help you become pain-free and achieve your physical goals, so you can continue to work and thrive in your nursing profession (or any physically-demanding job) without back pain.

Contact us on: (+356) 21 577 422 or email:


About the author:

  • Hi! I am Anita, 2nd Generation Teacher, Lolita San Miguel Pilates Master with over 15 years of experience.I was first introduced to Pilates as a result of a neck injury sustained after a car accident in the UK and Pilates saved me! I first graduated with Power Pilates / Universal Pilates in Spain and continued my education with Pilates Elder, Lolita San Miguel, USA where I completed a two-year Pilates Master Mentor Programme. I later successfully completed a further year-long LEAP Programme with the late Master Teacher Bob Liekens who introduced me to essential and functional advancements to the movement.  These experiences and knowledge have signified the importance of the Classical Pilates method, combined with functional advancements to the movement in order to maximize my clients’ experience.


  • I am committed to bringing alignment into my own life, body and those people I come across on a daily basis with the intention to make their presence on this earth a better one. I have personally benefitted from Pilates in every way. As a teacher trainer, my intention is to create Pilates programmes which respects the Classical lineage combined with the functional adaptations required to teach the body in front of you. This is not a one-method-fits-all. This is NOT how Joe Pilates taught. A teacher should have all the necessary tools to be able to use for each instance/client who crosses his/her path. This is what makes an exceptional teacher!


  • I am founder of Pilates Centre Malta and Anita Horry Academy, an International Teacher training Academy. Pilates Centre Malta is Malta´s premier, dedicated and fully professionally-equipped private Pilates studio, located in The MARINA Hotel Corinthia Beach Resort, St Georges Bay, St.Julians. The studio is equipped with state-of-the-art Classical Pilates equipment manufactured in the USA.


Your Health – Joseph H. Pilates

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