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If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 for a while now. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who only had mild symptoms, or perhaps you were hospitalized with a severe case.
Either way, you’re probably feeling pretty drained and unsure of how to get your energy and strength back. That’s exactly what I’ve been dealing with and I’d like to share some insights on how I’m slowly recovering and getting back to “normal”.
If there’s such a thing as a literal road to recovery, I feel like I’ve been on it. And I’m not going to kid you, it has been exhausting! But I will tell you this, the #1 thing that has helped improve my symptoms has been none other than–exercise.
Exercise is an incredibly important part of the recovery process for those who have had COVID-19, particularly for those with long COVID. Also known as post-COVID syndrome, long COVID refers to the ongoing symptoms and effects that some people experience after contracting the virus. These can include fatigue, difficulty breathing, and muscle weakness, among others.
While it may seem counterintuitive to start exercising when you’re feeling so wiped out, the truth is that physical activity can actually help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with long COVID. Plus, it’s a great way to boost your mood and overall sense of well-being.
So, if like me, you’re ready to start getting active again but not sure where to begin, read on for some tips and guidance on how to safely and effectively start exercising after long COVID.
Why Exercise Is Important for Long COVID Recovery
Before I dive into the how, let’s take a moment to talk about why exercise is so important for long COVID recovery.
First and foremost, physical activity has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits. It can help improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and even improve sleep quality. All things you probably already know (duh).
But for those with long COVID, the benefits of exercise go even deeper. Regular physical activity can help reduce fatigue and improve energy levels, making it easier to get through the day and do the things you love. It can also help improve muscle strength and respiratory function, both of which may be impaired as a result of the virus.
Exercise is also known to have a positive impact on mental health. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall mood. Given the stress and uncertainty that many people have experienced during the pandemic, this can be especially important for those with long COVID.
In short, exercise is an essential part of the recovery process for those with long COVID. It can help you feel stronger, more energetic, and more positive, making it easier to get back to your normal routine.
How to Exercise With Long COVID
So, you’re convinced that exercise is a good idea, but where do you start? Here are a few tips I’d like to suggest to help you get moving again:
Consult with your healthcare provider
Big disclaimer here: I’m not your primary care doctor and you should consider these tips as informational advice only. To avoid any serious complications it’s important to consult with YOUR healthcare provider.
They can give you guidance on what types of activities are safe for you to do based on your specific health needs and any lingering effects of the virus.
Once the Doc has given the all clear to exercise, check your expectations. If you haven’t exercised in a while, you’re going to want to start small and gradually increase your activity level. I’m not kidding because you’re likely going to feel winded, gassed, unmotivated, and generally wiped out with little to no exertion. I know I did.
Not just that, but you want to reduce the risk of injury and help you build up your strength and stamina slowly.
Begin with activities that are low-impact and easy on the joints, such as walking or swimming. As you become more comfortable and your strength improves, you can start to add in more challenging activities.
Find activities you enjoy
Now because any amount of physical movement will be taxing in the beginning, I suggest you find activities you actually enjoy. As it should be, exercise is something to look forward to. To start out, I’d suggest not going full-throttle with some new-fangled HIIT exercise.
Instead, keep it simple. Keep it light. This could be anything from dancing to hiking to cycling. The more you enjoy the activity, the less it seems like exercise and the more you’ll stick to it.
Vary your workouts
To keep things interesting and prevent boredom, try to vary your workouts. This could mean trying different types of exercises, switching up your routine, or working out in different locations. You might also consider joining a class or finding a workout buddy to help motivate and support you.
Listen to your body
It’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to any signs of fatigue or discomfort. Again, from my experience and likely yours too, fatigue is all you know.
If you’re feeling particularly tired or sore, it’s okay to take a break or modify your workouts. Remember, the goal is to get stronger, not to push yourself to the point of complete exhaustion.
Set realistic goals:
Setting goals can be a great way to stay motivated, but it’s important to make sure they are realistic. Long COVID is no joke and for some, the residual symptoms will linger for months to years.
Start by setting small, achievable goals, such as walking for 10 minutes a day or doing a few sets of bodyweight exercises. As you become stronger, you can gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.
Examples of Exercises for Long COVID Recovery
Now that you have a better idea of how to get started with exercise after long COVID, let’s look at some specific examples of exercises that may be helpful for recovery. Keep in mind that the best exercises for you will depend on your individual needs and abilities,.
Aerobic exercise: Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and helps improve your cardiovascular fitness. Examples include walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
Strength training: Strength training is any type of exercise that helps build muscle strength and endurance. This can include lifting weights, using resistance bands, or doing bodyweight exercises such as push-ups and squats. Aim to do strength training exercises two to three times per week, focusing on all major muscle groups.
Stretching: Stretching is an important part of any exercise routine, as it helps improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. Try incorporating stretches for all major muscle groups into your routine, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Yoga: Yoga is a great form of exercise for those with long COVID, as it combines strength training, stretching, and mindfulness. There are many different types of yoga, so you can find one that fits your fitness level and preferences.
Tai chi: Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise that involves slow, controlled movements and deep breathing. It can help improve balance, flexibility, and muscle strength, and has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
FAQ: Exercise and Long COVID
Can Weight Training Help You Exercise With Long COVID Symptoms?
Yes, weight training can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with long COVID. Regular strength training can help improve muscle strength and endurance, which can be impaired as a result of the virus. This can make it easier to perform everyday activities and reduce fatigue.
Strength training can also have a positive impact on respiratory function. Research has shown that strength training can increase muscle mass and strength in the chest, which can help improve the ability to take deep breaths and exhale fully.
Additionally, strength training has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, and improve overall mood. This can be especially helpful for those with long COVID, as the ongoing symptoms and effects of the virus can be emotionally draining.
What Other Things Have Doctors Recommend to Reverse Long COVID?
There is no specific treatment for long COVID, and the best course of action will depend on the individual and their specific symptoms. However, here are a few things that doctors may recommend to help alleviate the symptoms of long COVID:
Exercise: As mentioned earlier, exercise can be an important part of the recovery process for those with long COVID. It can help improve energy levels, muscle strength, respiratory function, and mental health.
Physical therapy: Physical therapy can be helpful for those with long COVID who are experiencing muscle weakness or difficulty with mobility. A physical therapist can design a tailored exercise program to help improve strength and function.
Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can be helpful for those with long COVID who are having difficulty with daily activities such as dressing, bathing, and cooking. An occupational therapist can provide guidance and assistive devices to help make these tasks easier.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that helps individuals change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be helpful for those with long COVID who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.
Are There Any Supplements That Have Been Proven to Be Effective Against Long COVID?
There is limited scientific evidence on the use of supplements for the treatment of long COVID. While some people with long COVID may find relief with certain supplements, it’s important to keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way that medications are, and their safety and effectiveness can vary.
Some people with long COVID have reported finding relief with supplements such as vitamin D, magnesium, NAD+ and CoQ10. On his podcast, Dr. Mark Hyman, the Functional Medicine director at the Cleveland Clinic, goes into extensive detail of what supplements can potentially help.
If I’m being honest, I still have days where I feel genuinely lousy, but I have just as many good days too.
Exercise has been an essential part of my recovery process to overcome long COVID. It has helped reduce fatigue, improve muscle strength and respiratory function, and boost my mood.
If you’re ready to get active again, remember to consult with your healthcare provider, start small, find activities you enjoy, and listen to your body. With a little patience and consistency, you can get back to feeling your best.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Physical Activity and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/physical-activity.html
Editor-In-Chief at Recovatech. Dr. Ben has been a Doctor of Chiropractic for over 10 years, specializing in structural and neurological imbalances with an emphasis in functional movement patterns, exercise performance, and muscle recovery. He has been the team chiropractor for professional baseball and soccer organizations, as well as collegiate athletes. In his personal life, he’s always been driven when it comes to athletics and personal performance. His mornings start by lifting something heavy and end spending time with family.