With COVID-19 so prevalent in today’s society, we have all been affected by it in some way.  We may have friends, family members or work colleagues who have tested positive in recent weeks or months.  It may have also affected you directly. Many individuals who have suffered COVID-19 report that it isn’t easy to get moving again.  A large number of people report that they still experience symptoms after the virus is no longer displaying positive test results.  So, how do we get back to normal after COVID-19?

It sounds simple; return to regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet and all will return to normal.  This is hardly the case, however.  Many individuals report high levels of exhaustion and fatigue when getting back to the daily grind.  The effort placed into a task doesn’t even need to be strenuous to cause decreases in energy levels post COVID-19.  I have developed a few key points to assist people in returning to safe and regular physical activity after COVID-19.  It’s worth noting that this may not be effective for everyone, and you should only complete what you can within your body’s limits.  If you are unsure what may be right for you, seek advice from your GP.

When is a good time to start exercising again?

To play it safe, it is recommended that you wait at least 7-10 days after you first experience symptoms to return to any form of exercise (strenuous or not).  The best way to ease back into physical activity is to engage in what is called ‘low-intensity’ exercise.  This intensity of exercise refers to activities that require minimal effort expenditure whilst allowing your body to exercise.  Examples can include housework, a very light walk, gardening, yoga, stretching etc.  If you’re unsure – think of everyday activities that you would do around the house without having to put a large amount of effort into.  An easy way to test the intensity level of an activity is to use the ‘talk test’.  Whilst performing these activities, you should be easily be able to maintain a conversation without getting breathless.  If you start to feel short of breath, have a rest or try and decrease the intensity of the activity at hand.

Start with approximately 10 minutes of low-intensity activity and see how your energy levels react.  Self-administer the ‘talk test’, and if you are finding this level of activity easy, you may increase the duration by approximately 5-10 minutes each day until you are able to complete 30 minutes of light-intensity physical activity.

How do I get back to my previous fitness levels? 

It is important to remember that this isn’t a race, and the main focus should be on a gradual return to physical activity.  Aim to spend at least one week focusing on gentle, whole-body movements.  From here you can progress to ‘moderate-intensity’ exercise.  This can include a brisk walk, cycling, swimming, more intense yoga practice and light-medium resistance exercise.  Moderate intensity exercise can be assessed using the ‘talk test’ again.  You should be able to hold a full conversation without the urge to catch your breath.  If you find you are unable to speak or completely out of breath, you are exercising at a high-intensity and need to rest or decrease exercise intensity.

If you find that moderate exercise is beginning to feel like light-intensity exercise after 5-7 days, you should be ready to return to your pre-COVID-19 exercise levels.  However, still exercise caution when returning to physical activity and ease into previous training routines.

There is no shame in slowing down and taking time to ensure your body is at its best and fully recovered.  This will ultimately save you time in the long run when returning to physical activity.  You can also talk to your local exercise physiologist about returning to exercise.  After all, exercise is what we do, and we’d love to help you all get back to your best.  We can also supply you with skills and information for a safe COVID-19 recovery.

Meagan Cristaldi

Director & Senior Accredited Exercise Physiologist

RM Physiology

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