Experts offer tips on how to safely return to exercise after Covid
Getting the body back into exercise after a Covid infection is no simple feat, with experts urging people to take it slow to avoid jeopardising recovery.
Waiting at least seven days or until symptoms have resolved - whichever is later - to return to exercise is what health experts recommend.
“That doesn’t just apply to Covid - that’s for any infection that you get respiratory illness,” Australian National University infectious diseases doctor Sanjaya Senanayake told NCA Newswire.
If you have had a positive rapid antigen test or PCR test and you’re asymptomatic, the rules are less clear.
But even without symptoms, it’s recommended to wait a week until after a rapid antigen or PCR test before hitting the gym.
“There’s still likely to be some virus circulating in your body at least in those first few days,” Associate Professor Senanayake says.
Personal trainer Matt Hunt, who owns the Un1t gym in Sydney’s Alexandria, got Covid just before Christmas.
His symptoms came on quickly and he spent three to four days with fever and aches.
“I started to feel a lot better after four days,” he said.
“On the fifth day I slowly started to move, because I’d been on the couch for four days not doing much at all with the body aches and headaches.”
Mr Hunt began with a simple yoga stretch session to gradually get the body moving again and recommends others do the same to kick off their fitness regime.
“The best advice is to ease yourself into it,” he said.
“It has to start gradually and everyone is different.
“People who I know who’ve come to the studio have just had a cough, sneeze and runny nose and some people have had four days in bed. It depends on what you actually went through.”
Activities such as cardio or conditioning that get the heart racing should be avoided at first.
In contrast, an initial light strength workout can help gradually the build the body back up again after a few weeks.
“I wouldn’t come in and do a huge conditioning cardio session because your cardiovascular system’s taken quite a hit,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt urged people to be easy on themselves.
“You are going to lose some of that fitness you once had but that happens. It’s a virus and it’s a serious infection so you have to be easy on yourself and let the people around you help you out.”
Associate Professor Senanayake agreed, adding overexerting yourself after a viral illness could place stress on the heart, which could cause problems particularly while exercising.
It could even be detrimental to recovery.
“Don’t just assume you’re going to be back to your baseline, it might take you a little while to return to that,” Associate Professor Senanayake said.
“If you do too much you’ll actually just go backwards, you’ll feel exhausted and regret you actually did the exercise.
“You’ll feel bad and tired and it’ll take you a few more days to recover and you could go backwards.”
Mr Hunt has noticed lethargy was a problem for most members who had returned to the gym after having Covid, with some feeling exhausted sooner.
“A few people that have respiratory issues are finding it harder to breathe,” he said.
“If you are coming in you’re not going to come back in 10 out of 10.
“You want to start at about four out of 10 and slightly build the pace up.
“You should be able to still talk to someone while they’re working out and that’s how you start - then you build yourself back up.”
Associate Professor Senanayake said people should be alert to feelings such as chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness that you wouldn’t expect with a certain level of exercise.
“They’re warning signs saying something’s not right here - time to stop or slow down,” he said.
“Just make sure you’re well and truly over the illness before you get into things.
“Work out where your body is in terms of fitness.”
Returning to pre-Covid fitness levels will vary on the individual, depending on fitness level and severity of illness.
“Maybe for someone who had a completely asymptomatic Covid illness will just take a few days off as a precaution, but they may find that when they resume their exercise it’s barely been affected,” Associate Professor Senanayake said.
“But for someone who’s been lying in bed for five days with a nasty flu-like illness, it may take them a week or so.
“It may be after a couple of days of easing into it you realise, actually, I’m pretty close to baseline, now I can just return to what I was doing and I’ll be fine - but I recommend that sort of graded approach.”
Mr Hunt recommended people take a gym or strength class to take advantage of chatting to their coach or personal trainer about how they’re feeling.
“If there’s staff on board you can explain what you’ve gone through, what’s sore and have a general discussion with your trainer about how your body’s feeling,” he said.
“No one’s alone in this.
“You’ve gone through a serious virus, the whole world’s been affected.
“Let the body recover and take the rest when needed.”
Originally published as Experts offer tips on how to safely return to exercise after Covid
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails