Exercise Post COVID

I’ve had a lot of questions about returning to exercise post COVID.  Over 2.5 million Australians have now had COVID. Odds are, either you or someone you know has contracted the virus.  There’s a broad range of symptoms you might have experienced from COVID.  This could include fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains to name a few.  And then there’s the recovery… Everyone’s experience is different, and therefore everyone’s journey back to exercise will be different too.

Getting back into life and exercise can often be challenging.

Getting the right advice

If you need help to start exercising after COVID, or your experiencing long COVID, your GP or Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help to guide you through your return to exercise safely. They will assess your capacity and prescribe exercises that is tailored to your individual needs. An exercise physiologist can also help to progressively increase your training load in a way that minimises the risk of additional fatigue or a flare in symptoms.  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 GP or Exercise Physiologist.

Be patient with your body

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

When can I start exercising again?

Exercise can play an important role in COVID-19 recovery. If you’re recovering from moderate or severe illness you should speak with your GP or Exercise Physiologist provider before returning to exercise.  If your symptoms were mild, you can start exercising again if:

  • you’ve had at least 7 days with no symptoms
  • you’ve had 10 days of rest since symptoms started
  • you’re no longer taking any medications such as paracetamol

What exercise intensity should post covid?

After having COVID it’s important to take it easy and be gentle. Often symptoms may not appear straight away after exercise. People often find that hours (or even the next day) after exercising, they can feel fatigue or increased muscle aches and pains.

Using a scale called Modified Borg Dyspnoea Scale can be useful to guide your exercise intensity when returning to exercise.  This is a scale that asks you to rate the difficulty of your breathing. It starts at number 0 where your breathing is causing you no difficulty.  The scale progresses through to number 10 where your breathing difficulty is maximal.  When returning to exercise, a good intensity would be somewhere between 0 and 2 on the scale.

If you do not experience any problems with your breathing, the exercise intensity can be progressed over 4 to 6 weeks to your normal level.

How often should you exercise post covid?

Most people should be able to return to their pre-covid exercise after 4 to 6 weeks.  It’s important here to use your judgement and listen to your body.  If it’s telling you to rest on a day when you plan on exercising, then rest.

Exercising 2-3 times per week would be a great goal when returning to exercise.  From there you can slowly start to add additional days as you experience a decline in symptoms or less fatigue.

Rating Perceived Breathing

How long should you exercise per session post covid?

Start small and listen to your body.  Depending on your experience with Covid, a good place to start might be 5-10 minutes.

Ideally, performing some light exercise everyday would benefit your recovery from Covid.  It’s better performing five 10-minute walks during a week than one 50-minute walk.

Managing fatigue and pacing yourself is very important.  As you feel your energy levels start improving, you could add 5 minutes to your walks.  Continue to progress your exercise duration as you continue to feel your fatigue subside.

What type of exercise should I get back into post covid?

Lower intensity and low impact exercise are the best options.  This can include walking, light cycling or light resistance training.  As you feel yourself returning to normal, then you can slowly start adding in more vigorous exercise such as running or swimming.

After having COVID it’s important to take it easy and start slowly.  Listen to your body and do not push yourself too hard.  If at any stage you feel your symptoms worsening, slow down and take it easier.  Combine sustainable exercise with a healthy diet, a regular sleep routine and managing stress and you should be able to repeat your exercise most days aiding your overall recovery.