Exercising after Covid

As Covid becomes more widespread in New Zealand and the chances of being affected rise, the question about how and when to return to exercise when recovering from Covid is becoming more common.

For many, the experience of Covid is mild and the impact is minimal, and as a result, returning to exercise gradually as they feel able, is mostly problem free, although it can be a slow and drawn out process.

As a general rule, the British Medical Journal recommends that you can return to exercise after you’ve been symptom-free for 7 days and to start slowly with 2 weeks of minimal exertion. As Covid can take its toll on several body systems – heart, lungs, brain, wider nervous system etc – and it’s normal to feel tired after a viral infection, starting slow and steady is the best approach.  If you go too hard, too fast, it may just take longer to recover and regain your fitness, and no one wants that.

It’s best to get a doctor’s clearance first if you:

  • Have an underlying cardiovascular or pulmonary condition,
  • Had symptoms like chest pains or tightness during exertion beyond what would be considered normal or were getting lightheaded, fainting, or irregular heartbeats when you had Covid,
  • Have ongoing symptoms, which may indicate post-acute illness, or
  • If you develop chest pain, fever, palpitations, or excessive breathlessness when you resume exercise.

It could take 3 to 6 weeks to return to ‘normal’, depending on individual circumstances and especially if symptoms have been more severe. Remember that recovery is also helped with good nutrition, hydration, rest, and sleep as well as social connection.

Keep in mind these points when returning to exercise post-Covid:

  • Start slowly for the first 2 weeks after you’ve had 7 days of being free of symptoms – walking, flexibility and mobility exercises, and yoga are good options to start with.
  • Build up gradually after those 2 weeks, challenging balance, coordination, and strength, and monitor how you feel as you go. Gradually build up the intensity, frequency, duration, and volume, but again, monitor how you feel.
  • Make sure to rest up in between sessions especially if you’re feeling more tired than you’d normally expect.
  • Remember that this process is different for everyone, and it might take longer for some compared to others.
  • If any symptoms reappear, or new symptoms appear like abnormal levels of fatigue or exhaustion, breathlessness, racing heart or chest pain, dizziness, or coughing, it’s time to stop and get checked out.

If you were fit and active pre-Covid, it can be frustrating to have to start so slowly but remember that pushing too much too soon could delay your progress further and taking your time and avoiding setbacks is a smarter approach.