Exercising after fighting off COVID-19 has proven to be particularly tough compared to returning to fitness after many other illnesses. Whilst some are extremely lucky and face mild to no symptoms throughout and post-infection, extreme fatigue, sluggishness and breathing difficulties are common for many of those recovering from COVID-19. A Jama (2020) study of 100 patients recently recovered from COVID-19 found that 78% showed signs of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) – independent of pre-existing conditions. It’s unsurprising therefore that it can seem impossible or even scary to return to previous activity levels, or difficult to know when is the right time to get back to exercise again. With the lasting side effects of COVID-19 still not fully known, it is important not to push yourself too far, too soon - as is the case with any illness, this can negatively impact recovery.
It should go without saying that anyone who experienced severe illness or hospitalization as a result of COVID-19 should consult a doctor about when it is safe to exercise, but even those with milder symptoms should ease slowly back into fitness:
- First off, make sure you’re fully better before attempting any sort of strenuous exercise. If you feel strong enough to move around the house, but not to venture out, there are several exercises you can do daily. Marching in your chair, a seated leg lift, sit to stand and heel raises are simple ways you can increase movement.
- Build back up to your pre-COVID-19 routine gradually. Don’t dive back into a 10k run, or your heavy weight session at the gym. Start easy. If you feel up to it, go out for a walk; if this is a breeze, try a light cycle. A gentle yoga session might even be the best option if you are still in doubt whether you are ready to leave the house or not. Introduce new activities slowly and set realistic weekly targets. Even if you feel fine, your body is likely still healing.
- Monitor your body’s response to exercise. If you feel tired, stop and rest. If you feel unwell or really fatigued after exercising, then chances are you need to lower the intensity of your activity. Make sure to allow a little extra sleep than you usually would to allow for your body to repair itself.
- Lastly, be patient and be kind to yourself. You probably won’t spring back to where you were straight away – it’s a process. Be thankful that your body is healing and that you’re on the road to recovery. Take baby steps and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you will be able to build back up to your pre-COVID-19 fitness levels.
Even if you have never been diagnosed with COVID-19, try and stay aware of how you are feeling – many people don’t even know they have it. If you’re a bit ‘off’ when exercising then slow down and rest up until you’re feeling 100%.