A significant proportion of people who contract COVID end up with persistent symptoms, commonly referred to as “long COVID”. The nature of these symptoms and the duration of the disease differ from person to person. While some people still suffer more than two years after their initial infection, others have recovered, or at least improved.
As you recover from long COVID, you may begin to feel motivated to resume the physical activity you once enjoyed. Although it may be possible at some point, it is important that you take your time to recover, accept your limits, and slowly return to exercise.
So if you were an active person before who, for example, ran half marathons or attended high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes, don’t go straight back to those things. This is likely to exacerbate your symptoms and could make you back down in your recovery.
A good first step is to talk to your GP or healthcare professional to see what is available to help you recover. For example, they might be able to refer you to community-supported programs like exercise rehabilitation or walking and talking groups.
Slow and steady
The United Kingdom National Institute of Health Research recommends a symptom-based approach to exercising during your recovery. This is where you structure your exercise plan based on the severity of your symptoms, rather than following a typical exercise program that gradually increases intensity and volume over time.
It is important to recognize that your progress is unlikely to improve consistently every week, and sometimes you may need to pull back on the amount of exercise you are trying to complete.
Make sure you only expend the amount of energy you think you have in your tank and don’t do strenuous exercises thinking you will. Good for you afterwards.
During and after exercise, note your symptoms and in particular your level of fatigue or post-exercise malaise. Post-exercise sickness occurs when your chronic symptoms worsen after exertion (in this case, exercise).
This should be a cue to reduce the amount or intensity of exercise you do. If your levels of post-exercise malaise become moderate to severe and occur about half the time you exercise, you should rest and speak with your doctor.
Type of exercise
The exercise doesn’t have to be very difficult. You can start with some simple chair exercises, such as standing squats or overhead punches (using the chair for support or sitting down). You can then move on to sit-stand exercises or squats, and gradually progress to walking and light housework.
Once you are more advanced in your recovery, try a combination of endurance and strength training. Strength training is helpful because it avoids large increases in breathing rate and improves muscle strength. We know that the latter can decline during a COVID infection and recovery.
Although evidence is still emerging, some studies have shown that exercise may provide benefits to patients with COVID for a long time. A study found that a six-week pulmonary rehabilitation program (education and exercise) improved respiratory and cardiovascular fitness, reduced shortness of breath, and increased quality of life.
This agrees with a similar, more recent study where long COVID patients followed an eight-week program of three exercise sessions per week (including both strength and endurance training). They reported significant improvements in quality of life, fatigue, muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness compared to a control group that did not participate in the exercise program.
Notably, the exercise sessions in this study were supervised and individualized for each patient. Skilled practitioners have made modifications throughout to manage symptoms.
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to seek help from an appropriate rehabilitation service in your area who can help you create your exercise plan or supervise your exercise sessions. If this is not possible, the World Health Organization offers helpful information on how to safely return to exercise while recovering from COVID symptoms.
Exercise, along with a healthy lifestyle, may boost immunity and therefore offer some protection against future infections with COVID and other pathogens. In particular, physical activity and Good nutrition provide our body with more anti-inflammatory proteins, which reduce the ignition storm that can arise from a COVID infection and make us very sick.
A new studymeanwhile, found that regular physical activity is linked to COVID vaccines being more effective against serious illnesses.
It’s worth thinking about the sports you enjoy and trying to join a community of people, like a walking and chatting group. It was shown at improve grip exercise.
Whatever exercise you choose, don’t overdo it or try to rush into what you could do before COVID.
Finally, it is important to recognize how unpredictable this condition is and that long COVID can appear in many forms, from mild to very severe. Exercise will not be suitable for those with more severe symptoms. It’s more appropriate, and may even be beneficial, for people with mild symptoms or recovering.