Exercising safely after contracting COVID-19

With gyms and sporting venues soon to reopen, the temptation to head straight back into our pre-lockdown exercise regimes can be strong.

But did you know that if you have contracted COVID-19, or know someone who has, there are additional health implications and precautions that need to be considered.

This article summarises the key risks around a return to exercise post COVID-19 and how to make this as safe as possible.

Health and Exercise after contracting COVID-19

An increasing number of people are now experiencing longer term health implications after contracting COVID-19 with ‘Long COVID’ becoming a more medically defined condition. After making a recovery, it may be tempting to return to sport and exercise, however, certain COVID related symptoms can persist for many months after the illness, and many can be made worse from exercise.

The COVID-19 virus can cause a range of complications for our health. Certain systems of the body are more likely to have complications associated with them, including;

  • Heart and lungs
  • Muscle and joints
  • Blood clots
  • Mental Health
  • General and Chronic Fatigue

It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive and it is always advisable to seek medical attention for any new symptoms you may have developed or are concerned about.

Risks of exercise after COVID-19

It is becoming more apparent that exercise itself can potentially act as a risk factor in developing post COVID-19 complications. Return to exercise and sport too quickly or too vigorously after contracting COVID-19 can potentially cause harm to our bodies.

The main COVID-19 complications that may be specific to exercise include;

  • Inflammation of the heart
  • Blood clots in the lungs
  • Breathing difficultly
  • Anxiety and depression

If you have previously suffered from any of the list above, it is especially important you gain expert advice before return to exercise.

How do I return to physical activity after COVID-19

Sadly, there is no medical step by step guide that details a return to exercise. However, experts agree that exercise routines should be;

  • Graduated
  • Individualised
  • Continually monitored

If you are thinking about returning to exercise after COVID-19, here are some key tips to keep in mind

1. Make sure you have been symptom free from COVID-19 for at least seven days before starting to exercise

2. Seek urgent medical advice if you experience any new symptoms or symptoms out of the ordinary. This may include cough, shortness of breath or chest pain.

3. Keep an exercise diary so you can monitor your training volume and how you feel. For each session, record the FITT;

  • The Frequency (how many times a week?)
  • The Intensity (how hard did it feel? e.g. Light, Moderate, Intense)
  • The Type (strength or cardio-based?)
  • The Time (How long is your session?)

4. If you are used to measuring your workouts with wearable technology (e.g. speed, power, distance), comparing your metrics to pre-COVID-19 levels can be quite informative. If you are performing at a lower level during your exercise, with the same effort, it may be a sign that your body is stressed.

5. Seek the advice of a doctor who is appropriately qualified to give you guidance on exercise (e.g. sports doctor).

Who can support me with my return to exercise?

It is always wise to seek expert advice from a sports medicine physician before restarting exercise after COVID-19. This will help maximise safety and mitigate the risks associated with a return to exercise.

A full medical with our sports doctors may involve;

  • A thorough consultation and examination
  • Blood tests
  • Baseline investigations e.g. chest x-ray, ECG
  • More specialist investigations if required e.g. Echo, MRI

Please get in touch with our team to find out more.

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