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Tips for everyone returning to exercise after COVID-19

When you do restart your workout routine, here are some tips you should keep in mind.

Don’t Exercise While You Still Have Symptoms of COVID-19

The most important thing for people to remember is not to exercise while still having symptoms — fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath. It’s never good to exercise when you’re sick or symptomatic with an active infection. If you exercise while you have an active viral infection, that may cause the infection to get worse, which could lead to additional complications. 

Start Slow and Gradually Up the Intensity

How you should start exercising after COVID-19 depends on what level of activity you were doing before. You should know your own (easy to difficult) capabilities. 

A good way to get started would be with a stationary bike or elliptical machine or engaging in an activity like swimming. If you could do a gradual build of intensity over a period of a couple of weeks, tolerate it and continue to feel good, then you can return to your typical workouts.

For more serious fitness enthusiasts who may plan out their workouts to certain heart rate zones or perceived exertion metrics, the recommendations are more adapt to monitor

Because each person’s recovery and return to exercise is an individual experience, you’ll have to monitor your progress closely and pay attention to your symptoms when you work out.

Listen to Your Body — Especially if You Have Any Existing Heart Issues

Some cases of COVID-19 create intense inflammation throughout the body, and part of that inflammation can affect the cardiac muscle, causing myocarditis

Returning to Exercise if You Have Long COVID-19

The safest and best way to return to exercise will look different for people with prolonged symptoms.

What has been observed so far is that these people start to feel better, but they never quite get over the hump; they seem to plateau and don’t improve. COVID-19 long haulers can have excessive fatigue with normal daily activities, experience daily headaches, and find themselves out of breath doing things like going up and down the stairs or walking to the mailbox. 

Assess yourself using tools and techniques:

For anyone beginning to exercise again after having COVID-19 is to assess and monitor their current baseline.

By using tools and techniques to monitor your resting and working heart rate, and mindfulness to tune in to your level of effort, you’ll have a starting point to grow from.

Here are two ways of measuring your heart rate and effort level.

Monitor your heart rate

It’s important to first identify your resting heart rate. This might have changed since your COVID-19 diagnosis, and it’s important to know where you’re starting from.

There are a number of ways to measure your heart rate by checking your pulse. Or have a device giving you feedback, a heart rate monitor is a wonderful tool for regular exercise.

Monitor your rate of perceived exertion

Rate of perceived exertion is a numbered scale that helps the exerciser subjectively determine how hard they are working.

This is a simple way of associating the exercise you’re doing with your effort level. It’s also a great way of strengthening your mind-body connection and intimately understanding your various levels of physical determination.

Start slow and simple

When it comes to exercise, start with walking. Given what we know about the benefits of walking, it’s a simple way to gently oxygenate your body and gain some energy and aerobic conditioning.

You can moderate your pace to your liking. Try to not be driven by making up for lost workouts. Start with 30 minutes of walking, 3–5 days a week, for 1–2 weeks.

Don’t overexert yourself, because your body is still enduring some amount of inflammation. Your immune system could become overtaxed by too much intensity right away.

After a couple of weeks of walking, you can begin to exercise at an aerobic heart rate. Be sure to warm up at an easy level for 3–5 minutes, and then increase your intensity so your heart rate is at the lower end of the aerobic level for your age range.

Include mobility and stability exercises

Core exercises, yoga, and Pilates are all great options for waking up your stabilizing muscles, regaining your range of motion, and getting your body moving again.

Your core muscles have probably lost some endurance because of a decrease in your activity levels, so be sure to breathe through your repetitions and apply all your mental energy to making your quality of movement strong, stable, and intentional.

You can spend 20–30 minutes moving — being mindful of staying at a very doable level of work — and then cool down at an easy intensity for a few minutes. Try this 3 – 5 days a week, and make sure you’re not experiencing any symptoms of overtraining.

After a month of monitoring your heart rate at rest and during exercise, you should start to see a change.

Your resting and working heart rates should both decrease with the same level of work you’ve been doing consistently. This means your rate of perceived exertion should also decrease.

These are signs that your body is positively adapting to your cardiovascular training. Rest and recovery will remain very important components of your exercise progress and your continued recovery from COVID-19.