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COVID-19: Does Exercise Help COVID Recovery?

You are thinking about  navigating your COVID recovery with exercise and you are popping the question, ’Does Exercise Help COVID Recovery?’ Even though it is normal to experience fatigue, weakness, and even shortness of breath to even consider exercise. However, engaging in physical activity can be vital to your healing process, provided you approach it with patience and realistic goals.

Feeling tired and having reduced energy levels after a viral infection like COVID-19 is par for the course. The good news is that many individuals experience a noticeable improvement within a few days or weeks after their COVID-19 infection has passed. 

For most people, the COVID recovery timeline spans around 12 weeks. Yet, it’s worth acknowledging that some individuals might grapple with prolonged fatigue. Our understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19 is still evolving.

Navigating Exercise Amidst Lingering Symptoms

Certain common health issues stemming from COVID-19 can impact your exercise plans. These include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Excess phlegm production (though this varies based on the severity of the infection)
  • Profound fatigue and decreased energy levels
  • Muscle weakness and joint stiffness

Managing COVID-19 Symptoms

Starting Gradually! While consistent physical activity offers numerous benefits, it’s crucial to ease back into your routine. In the initial weeks:

  • Begin slowly, progressively introducing new activities
  • Set achievable weekly goals for yourself
  • Rest whenever fatigue sets in
  • Avoid comparing your progress to others—move at your own pace.

Read: Does Exercise Help IBS

Energy Conservation after COVID-19

If you are exceptionally tired and unable to perform everyday tasks a day or two following physical activity, consider dialing the intensity. Only consider increasing activity levels if:

  • Symptoms remain stable or improve with your current level of activity
  • You sense an ability to push a little further without worsening symptoms

Strategizing Your Activities during Challenging COVID Recovery

If your COVID recovery proves more arduous, here are some strategies for planning, prioritizing, and pacing your activities. Non-urgent recommendation – consult your GP if:

  • You harbor concerns about resuming exercise
  • Exercising remains challenging 8 to 12 weeks after COVID recovery
  • Symptoms worsen within a day or two after physical activity
  • A physiotherapist referral could be suggested.

Managing Shortness of Breath

Vigilantly monitor your breathing during exercise, aiming for an intensity where you can converse comfortably without becoming breathless.

Starting with Walking

Walking is one of the simplest yet most effective methods to rebuild strength and fitness.

  • Commence with small, realistic goals—walking for 5 to 10 minutes. Walking to the bathroom could be an initial goal if you’re feeling particularly frail.
  • Plan your walk so that you can pause and rest if exhaustion or breathlessness creeps in—this could be by a bench or a wall.
  • Over time, gradually extend your walking duration. For instance, aim for 5 minutes a day in the first week and increase it to 10 minutes daily in the second week. Remember, your pace is key.

Exercises within Your Abode

Integrating physical activity into your routine remains essential whether you’re confined to your home or hospital. Avoid prolonged bed rest as it can impede both physical and mental recovery.

Initial Exercises to Try

Execute the following exercises in your chair, at home, or in the hospital. Some may require a chair with armrests:

  • Seated March
  • Seated Leg Lift
  • Sit to Stand
  • Rowing Arms
  • Toe Lifts
  • Side Leg Lifts

Progressing to Standing Exercises

After hospitalization, your physiotherapist will determine your readiness for more advanced exercises:

  • Leg Back Lift
  • Knee Raise
  • Heel Raises


Read: 11 Top Back of the Knee Fat Exercises

Gradual Return to Exercise: The Tortoise Approach

As you recover from COVID-19, you may experience mild symptoms for around four to six weeks. This is okay, and you can continue to exercise if you feel up to it. But remember, be the tortoise and not the hare. Slow and steady wins the race!

Seeking Help When Needed

If you’re having symptoms that are limiting you, it’s not okay. Often, this is a sign that you need further help and should reach out to your medical team.

Coming Back Strong with Patience

Taking a break from exercise can often leave you feeling bad. You might need to maintain your fitness or motivation. However, it’s important to remember that even elite athletes taper or reduce exercise for events like the Olympics. Two to three weeks of less activity won’t have any long-term detrimental effects.

Individualizing Your Approach to Exercise

How should people approach exercise after having COVID? This is a question we hear a lot and a very important one. Getting back into exercise may be very easy after having mild COVID, but it can be challenging for others with ongoing symptoms.

The Importance of Listening to Your Body

The first thing you should do is listen to your body. It’s important to recognize the signals your body sends you, telling you to stop, be careful, or get going.

Traffic Light Approach to Exercise

We often talk about this as traffic lights. The stop is a red light, yellow is a warning or be aware, and green means go.

So, Does Exercise Help COVID Recovery?

As you regain strength, you can diversify your daily routine with balance, flexibility, and strength exercises. Once you’ve made a more substantial COVID recovery, strive to walk for at least 30 minutes five days a week. Explore local gyms or sports clubs for additional activities of interest, such as joining a walking group.

If you need help to start exercising after COVID, or you’re experiencing long COVID, an exercise physiologist can help to guide you through your return to movement safely. They will assess your capacity and prescribe exercises tailored to your needs. Remember, every step you take brings you closer to a fuller COVID recovery and a healthier future.

Spot a mistake or want to suggest improvement? Feel free to contact us!

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