Returning to Exercise after a Covid 19 Infection
By Adina, Foundation Clinic on 30th March 2022 Advice
It is looking increasingly likely that the majority of Kiwis will experience a COVID infection at some stage, and a common question is when we can return to our normal physical activities, including running. Fortunately, the majority of us will have only very mild symptoms that may not impact our lives too much. As a result, the majority of patients can start to return to activity when they feel physically able.
A small number of patients however do need further evaluation. Patients with a number of other comorbidities, those who have not exercised before, and those who have experienced chest pain, significant shortness of breath, or other more significant symptoms should see a doctor and may need other tests, for example, blood tests or an ECG. This is to rule out complications like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) that may make exercise unsafe.
Slow and steady
Generally, COVID infection symptoms settle over 3-7 days within the infectious period. When a patient feels that their illness has resolved, most are safe to start returning to some physical activity.
Given that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can involve a number of systems, including the heart, kidney, blood, brain, and wider nervous system, the resumption of activity should be slow and steady. The duration and intensity of activity should be guided by both physical and psychological factors. Increasing the volume and intensity of activity too quickly can prolong fatigue and other symptoms, making getting back to even the most basic activities of daily living difficult and frustratingly slow.
It should be highlighted that prolonged rest can also be counterproductive. This can lead to significant morbidity including persisting fatigue, weakness, and other symptoms.
Recovery can take 3 - 6 weeks. Pace yourself
Returning to a normal level of activity or sport generally takes about three weeks but can often take much longer for those who have had a more severe illness, especially those who have been hospitalized.
As a rule, you should wait 7 days after being symptom-free before starting to ‘exercise’ again.
The important message is that returning to activity and exercise is important for recovery of physical and psychological wellbeing, but must be in a step-wise fashion, ensuring you are able to recover well from each exercise bout without ongoing symptoms before progressing to the next level.
Adequate sleep, good nutrition, hydration, and social connection are also vital to help you recover well. Some practical tips are to:
- Try to remain active while you are isolating at home (if your symptoms allow)
- Start with small volume of low-intensity aerobic exercise, walking is an excellent option
- Avoid returning to more intense exercise, for example, heavy resistance training or running, for at least seven days after your symptoms resolve
- Plan a graded return to activity, for example, start by increasing your walking distance and intensity, progress to include some bouts of running within your walk, then increase the amount of running
- You may feel more tired than normal, listen to your body and make sure that you get enough rest
Help is available
To learn more about how to be more active, including some return to run programs, there are a number of good resources.
The Moving Medicine website has a number of excellent resources that have been designed for both patients and clinicians. Included in these is an easy-to-follow set of COVID Recovery Tips detailing how to get back to the activities you enjoy.
For those wishing to push themselves a bit more and get back to high-performance endurance sports and activities, there is an excellent Infographic in the British Journal of Sports Medicine outlining “Graduated Return to Play after COVID-19 infection”.
If you feel that you need help resuming activity after your COVID infection, get in touch with your local physio. If you're in the Bay of Plenty or Hamilton, check out Foundation Clinic and get your first assessment free (if you're a Wild Things VIP!)
Be kind to yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help and be patient with your recovery.
Reference: Axis Sports Medicine