How to get back to regular exercise post having COVID

Thursday, 27 January 2022

With Australia only now having a large number of the population being affected by COVID, not many people have had to think about how to manage an active life post having COVID. Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is urging all Aussies to exercise caution when it comes to getting back into exercise.

“With the flu or any respiratory illness that causes high fever, muscle aches and fatigue, it is important to first recognise that it is worse than a cold and people won’t be able to bounce back as easily to everyday living activities. COVID has proved to be a strange customer and reacts in different ways to different people,” explains Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA CEO.

“Normally, it is assumed to push yourself when exercising to see improvements after each session, however, after having COVID, we need to wait until the fever is gone before getting back to exercise. The first workout back should be light so as to not get out of breath, with the aim to slowly progress as you return to a normal routine.”

Accredited Exercise Physiologist Nathan Butler from Victorian based Active Health Clinic has been seeing patients recovering from COVID for over 12 months and specialises in helping patients now coping with long-COVID, through their COVID recovery initiative. Nathan reiterates that recovery from this illness needs to be taken seriously and recovery properly managed.

“The majority of our patients are between 20 - 40 years of age, presenting fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle and joint aches and pains, dizziness and nausea. These symptoms are both present in short and long COVID. Pushing through a viral illness can lead to chronic illness and in this case, long COVID; which the world is still learning from,” explains Nathan.

Nathan shared that “When testing negative and symptoms dissipate, we encourage our clients to focus on the essentials of life, like cooking, running errands and shopping, then once they are able to do these things without exhaustion, we can look at introducing exercise back into their routine.”

For people coming back after experiencing COVID, they start in the acute phase of recovery, which means they need to take it easy. It is important to not be afraid to move, but definitely don't push boundaries.

“After a virus, they won't be able to go back to what they were doing straight away. One week into infection they can start to move, but it is essential to note that every individual is different and this may be too soon. Become aware of your body’s warning lights – if you’re short of breath after walking to your kitchen, take another few days of rest before you start moving again.” Nathan stated.

It can be hard to tell your body to slow down, but keep in mind that even elite athletes taper in their training and the average person doesn’t lose fitness in three weeks, so taking that extra time to recover is not a bad thing.

“Moving your body can stimulate the nervous system. Begin with stretching, walking, meditative and yoga practice, from here you can reassess after each session, introducing short, low intensity exercise and establishing how much your body can take whilst still holding a conversation,” Nathan suggested.

Between 8-30% of people who catch COVID have continuing symptoms and need to seek help. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist is a university-trained exercise expert who can provide Aussies with an individual plan to get them back to regular performance.

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