Returning to Exercise After Recovering from COVID-19: How & When to Get Moving Again
August 24, 2021
August 24, 2021
After any period of inactivity — whether recovering from an injury or after battling an illness — we need to listen to our bodies and return to exercise safely. As you may still not be feeling 100%, it is vital to return to exercise by following advice from your doctor or published guidelines. Most people, either personally or their loved ones, have been affected by COVID-19 over the last few years and, as new infections are still occurring, it is important to know how to ease back into exercise safely after infection with COVID-19. After recovering from illness, it is important to reach your previous level of fitness and, ideally, surpass it!
How will I know when I can return to physical activity after having COVID-19?
Medical professionals believe it is safe to return to exercise after an asymptomatic period of seven days (as any warning signs of severe infection occur around a week since the onset of symptoms). Ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel like getting up to make a cup of tea? Are you able to take a short walk? These simple tasks may even feel tiring, but don’t take this as a sign that you aren’t ready to start exercising again: physical activity, little and often, even if you need to take breaks, is the key to a healthy recovery from COVID-19.
COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness but can also affect other body systems (from the cardiac to musculoskeletal to gastrointestinal). Most people who catch COVID-19 can manage their symptoms at home, but others need further care and experience symptoms for a long time after the infection is gone. Therefore, all recovery timelines will be different and when you can return to exercise will be dependent on several factors:
- Do you still have symptoms?
- Were you hospitalised?
- Do you have any pre-existing health conditions that you need to keep in mind?
Why is exercise important to recovery?
The sooner you can build your strength back, the sooner you will be able to return to your hobbies, your work, and feel great by doing all the things that are important to you. You’ll also feel fitter, healthier, and, as exercise releases endorphins, it is a great way to combat the mental toll that illness takes.
How do I start exercising again after having COVID-19?
As with the timeline of your recovery, the way you return to physical activity should be tailored to your individual needs. However, a sensible and gradual approach that is based on your previous fitness level is advised. First, use the “3As” approach: ask, assess, and advise/assist. How am I feeling today? Can I achieve more than I did yesterday? Do I need to ask a medical professional before increasing my levels of physical activity? This approach involves increasing the volume (time doing the activity) and load (intensity) before moving on to more strenuous exercises.
- Begin with light-intensity activity, such as getting round to doing the cleaning, walking the dog, or starting your mornings with yoga or gentle Pilates. The intensity of these activities can be easily increased as you feel yourself becoming fitter; you can go for a hike or take your basic yoga and Pilates to the next level!
- Once you feel comfortable with light intensity exercises, you can progress to more challenging activities. These might include jogging, swimming, cycling, or HIIT workouts. At first, you can exercise in intervals of two 5-minute blocks of activity, followed by a block of recovery time, and add an interval each day as you recover and grow fitter.
- The final phase of recovery takes you to your pre-illness level of fitness: boxing, weight training, CrossFit, or whatever else you love!
Keep an eye out for abnormal breathlessness, abnormal heart rate, or excessive fatigue, and don’t worry if you need to stop and rest as that’s a normal part of recovering and regaining your strength.
How can I find the motivation to start exercising after illness?
The best way to get active, reach, and surpass your pre-illness level of fitness is by finding workouts that you love and seeking motivation from a supportive community. DareBear is ready to support you by tailoring workouts to suit your recovery and making you feel great! You can find workouts with qualified PTs and browse classes online or in your area now. It only takes moments to join, so sign in and start your fitness journey today!
This article features information published in the British Medical Journal and on the NHS website. If you have any questions about returning to physical activity after recovering from COVID-19 or any other illness, please contact your doctor.