The WHO and other experts recommend taking things slowly to give your body sufficient time to recover from Covid-19 (1), which means that working out during this time is not advised as your body is already working overtime to fight off the virus in your system. We know that taking it easy might be frustrating for some, especially if you are accustomed to living an active lifestyle, BUT, while you’re recovering, it is best to pause your training and focus your energy on rest, eating nutritiously, hydrating, and any other recovery activities that your healthcare professional recommends (depending on the severity of your symptoms). Don't push your body to do more than it's able to do - we understand that this will be more difficult for some, especially for athletes who are always encouraged to push past their limits. Not giving your body time to get better might only delay recovery even further. Use this time to remind yourself that it's okay to rest without feeling guilty.
But now that you’re better with no symptoms, you’re not sure how to get started again? And especially since your body might still be feeling a little tired (possibly long covid?). Worry not, we’ve got some tips to help you get back into your routine. Just remember to take it slow.
But before we go any further, we acknowledge that everyone is different. So it's important to consult with your healthcare provider before implementing any of the below recommendations.
Here are some post-Covid training tips:1. Be gentle - This is especially important since some people tend to experience lingering symptoms for weeks and or months after their initial diagnosis, including shortness of breath, muscle aches, loss of stamina and exhaustion – all of which are bad news, but particularly so for active people looking to return to exercising regularly.
According to the latest studies, mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms last about two weeks for most people. But some people experience lingering health problems even after they have recovered from the acute phase of the illness. So be extra attentive to your body and its needs, so you can give it a fighting chance to recover.
Make sure you receive medical clearance from a healthcare professional before attempting training, this recommendation is strongly applicable to athletes, the elderly, those with breathing difficulties, and those who experience cardiac-related challenges in general. The nature of the virus is unpredictable, so it doesn’t always affect everyone the same way. Unless you undergo a proper health check, you might not know how the virus impacted your overall physical wellbeing.
2. Ease back into training by phasing it into your schedule - we don’t recommend going in hard all at once in an attempt to pick up where you left off before your Covid-19 diagnosis. Rather increase the intensity a little bit every week, this comes highly advised by Dr Karna Sarin, a critical care physician who’s part of Cleveland Clinic’s post-intensive care unit (ICU) recovery clinic, who has worked with people who have experienced some of the most serious Covid-19 symptoms. The reality is that post-covid, some people’s bodies are changed by the virus (not for the better) - sometimes this happens in ways many people are not even aware of. So don’t train your body as though nothing has changed. Take it easy, and help it adjust slowly.
This means starting with low-intensity exercises, like short walks (see how long you can manage before you’re out of breath), breathing exercises, yoga, and jogging, and then building up to moderate exercises like body weight and circuit training in the weeks that follow, before hitting the HIIT and aerobic-related activities as your body feels stronger and stamina increases. The point is to get your body used to activity again. Whatever you do, don’t try to “power through” training when your body is obviously telling you to rest or take it easy.
3. Be mindful and listen to your body’s signals - If it's telling you to rest, listen. During this time, it is important to practice self-compassion. It's easy to get impatient and try to push your body past what it’s able to do at that moment when you feel frustrated that your body doesn’t seem to respond to exercise as it had previously.
Being mindful also means that as you phase in your workout routine, you’re able to know when you can increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts. You can better recognise your body making progress as you get stronger, and then be able to run longer as the weeks go by. Eventually, knowing when you can return to training at full capacity. Mindfulness can enable your mind and body to feel connected, therefore better able to work together to help with post-Covid training.
Here are some of the symptoms experts warn you to watch out for when working out post-Covid:
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- High heart rate that is not proportional to exertion level, or prolonged heart rate recovery
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Shortness of breath, difficulty catching breath or abnormal, rapid breathing
- Excessive levels of fatigue
- Swelling in the extremities (hands and feet)
- Syncope (passing out or fainting)
- Experiencing tunnel vision or loss of vision
More importantly, staying hydrated and eating nutritiously can also aid your body to recover well so that you’re better able to train again. Just keep in mind that Covid-19 has affected people differently, this means not everyone will experience the same things after recovery. For some people, there might not even be a struggle to return to regular training, while others might take months to get back to their normal training schedules. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Consult your healthcare professional before doing anything. And remember to be patient with your body!