Following infection from Covid-19, you will quite understandably want to get back in to exercise and feel yourself again. Not only is exercise going to be great for your body, it is also going to be great for your mental health too. An evidence based approach recommends a gradual return to exercise, starting out at a low intensity and slowly building back from there.
Looking After Your Heart:
One of the reasons for this return to exercise approach is that viral infections have been known to damage or cause potential complications to the heart. One such complication is myocarditis (inflammation in the middle heart wall). The research suggests that persons whom had severe Covid are more at risk than those that had a mild Covid (Ref1). Therefore, taking an overall cautious approach that allows your body to safely adapt back to where you left off is the best way forward.
Your Immune System:
Improving your immune system is yet another positive effect of exercise. Low-Moderate intensity exercise stimulates cellular immunity, helping boost your body's fight against the virus. However, prolonged or high intensity exercise can trigger decreased cellular immunity (Ref2).
When To Start Low Intensity Exercise:
First things first - exercise should not be undertaken if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, feel faint, or have palpitations. Some of these symptoms may be part and parcel of the viral illness, although prolonged symptoms should be checked by your doctor. If you have underlying heart conditions, morbidity, or have had a severe case of Covid, initial exercise should be supervised by a Physio or Exercise Physiologist.
You are set to start low intensity exercise if you have had no or very mild symptoms for 7 days post infection.
Recreational athletes may resume at 50% of normal training intensity and volume for the first week (Ref1).
Once again - if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, fever or palpitations upon resumption of exercise please see your health professional.
What Is A Low And High Intensity Exercise?
Low intensity exercise is exercise between 50-60% of your max heart rate and a high intensity exercise is 70-90% of your max heart rate.
A low intensity exercise example would be walking or cycling on a flat surface for 15-20 minutes.
A high intensity exercise example would be similar to jogging consecutive stair climbs.
What Is A Good Low Intensity Exercise?
Walking! Some would have heard me say that walking is such an underrated exercise. Walking can be progressed in distance, time, speed and environment. It is probably the easiest to fit in to your day. You can implement ideas such as parking further away from work or choosing a favourite walking area to go to.
How Do I Progress?
Progress gradually over a 4 week period. Obviously this will vary between each individual depending on how they are recovering. For recreational athletes research recommends a gradual guided activity modification plan by reducing intensity 50%/30%/20%/10% over a 4-week period (Ref3).
The Road To Recovery:
Recovery from Covid is individually unique. Of most importance is continuing to look after your nutrition, hydration and getting sleep. It is normal to feel tired and sluggish after a viral infection and these symptoms will affect everyone differently should that be prolonged (Long Covid) or shorter duration of illness.
Who Can Help Me Return Or Start Exercise Safely?
At Next Step Rehab Facility, we have Physio and Medically trained Exercise Physiologists who have an educated understanding of medical conditions. We have the expertise to not only understand the pathophysiology of each medical condition but also to screen for any risks related to returning or starting exercise.
We specialise in exercise rehabilitation. We monitor, guide, and safely help you back in to your health journey. We wish you a speedy recovery through Covid. Please contact us for more information.
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1) Metzl JD, McElheny K, Robinson JN, Scott DA, Sutton KM, Toresdahl BG. Considerations for Return to Exercise following Mild-to-Moderate COVID-19 in the Recreational Athlete. HSS Journal®. 2020;16(1_suppl):102-107. doi:10.1007/s11420-020-09777-1
2) Da Silveira, M.P., da Silva Fagundes, K.K., Bizuti, M.R. et al. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med21, 15–28 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10238-020-00650-3
3) Caterisano, A, Decker, D, Snyder, B CSCCa and NSCA joint consensus guidelines for transition periods: safe return to training following inactivity Strength Cond J. 2019 41 31–2310.1519/SSC.0000000000000477