So it happened – you caught Covid. However, apart from being a bit feverish and the general flu blues, you’re feeling relatively okay. If you’re more of a fitness buff, you might ask be wondering about a question that’s on many people’s minds lately: “Can you exercise with COVID?” Is putting your body through demanding exercise worth it, even if you only have mild symptoms?
In this guide, we’ll talk about whether you should exercise at all and how to get back to your fitness routine after you’ve beaten this nasty illness.
Exercising With COVID-19
When it comes to general advice on illnesses and training, who better to ask than sports medicine physicians?
As Dr. Danlel Montero, a sports medicine physician from Mayo Clinic put it, exercise itself is a form of medicine. If your symptoms are concentrated above the neck (think, runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, minor sore throat), then doing your workouts is ok.
Furthermore, it can even be beneficial, as exercise can help you open up the nasal passages. Even then it’s not that bad to go a bit easier on yourself. Instead of running, opt for a walk. And don’t forget, any amount of exercise can have health benefits, so don’t overdo it if you feel that you’re not up to the task.
On the other hand, exercising with COVID isn’t a great idea if you have more symptoms that are more severe, like fever, fatigue, body aches, and such. If that happens, your best bet is to stay in bed or at least try to get a lot of rest until your symptoms subside.
Also, if you have “symptoms below the neck,” like chest congestion, an upset stomach, or hacking coughs, it’s best to opt for recovery. Experts agree that this is a sign of your body signaling you to slow down, and you would do well to listen to it.
Other experts say that exercising after COVID has left your system entirely is your best bet, no matter how mild your symptoms are.
Based on the data so far, a large number of patients will generally feel okay enough to go about their daily business. Still, it’s highly advised that they take it easy for at least a week after testing positive.
Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician, says that COVID-19 will affect everyone differently. Because of this, it’s better to play it safe and reduce physical exercise to a minimum.
Sure, asymptomatic patients may have more leeway for being active, but those who feel ill should avoid exercise altogether.
Even if you are feeling a bit ill, going on a brisk walk can be a good idea (as long as you practice social distancing) but save the grueling stuff for after your recovery.
Even for asymptomatic patients, experts recommend resuming regular exercise no earlier than seven to ten days after testing positive. Returning to exercise after COVID should be gradual, starting at a lower level of exertion and increasing the workload each week.
If you’re experiencing more severe symptoms, it’s important not to push through with exercise. Let your body rest and give it enough time for recovery because you might get yourself into even a bigger mess otherwise.
Some people who get COVID-19 (around one in every five patients who end up in the hospital) can also develop heart muscle inflammation problems (myocarditis) that can persist even after the other symptoms subside.
People with these symptoms will usually experience palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and light exertion.
If you start to feel these symptoms during your first post-COVID power walk, it’s a good idea to stop and get in touch with your doctor ASAP.
When looking at the big picture, can you exercise with COVID or only after the infection isn’t the only question.
While doctors definitely know more about the virus than they did during the first few weeks of the outbreak, there’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding the long-term effects of this coronavirus. So far, experts know that the infection can lead to heart, kidney, lung, and brain damage, but as of now, there’s still not enough data to determine all potential long-term effects on your body.
This is why most excerpts advise taking COVID-19 infections seriously, especially for active individuals. While it’s safe to say that a large portion of the people will be fine as long as they take it easy at first, others will have to take special care and accept that they may not recover their past athletic prowess for a long time.
Timelines for Returning to Exercise Regimes
Exercising after COVID will be different for each person, depending on how severe their case was and how fit they were before catching the virus.
- That said, if you only had mild symptoms or tested positive without any symptoms, you can get back to exercising after you get out of isolation. Also, considering a gradual return to your regime would be the best: you are not out of the woods just because you have mild symptoms.
- In case of moderate or severe illnesses, the supervision of a doctor prior to getting back to your fitness regimen is paramount. To ensure that everything’s okay, you might need additional screenings and tests, like blood work, ECG, heart imaging, and so on, before getting back to the treadmill.
Also, if you suffer from any of the following symptoms after restarting your exercise routine, you should stop immediately:
- Heart/chest palpitations
- A high heart rate that’s not proportional to the exertion level
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive fatigue levels
- Swelling in the extremities
- Passing out
- Tunnel vision or loss of vision
So, when can you exercise after COVID and after experiencing these red flags? Well, if the symptoms listed above resolve on their own, you should rest for at least a day and get back to exercise the following day with decreased intensity. If everything checks out, you can continue to increase the workload gradually.
If the symptoms persist for longer than 24-48 hours, schedule an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation and testing,
Easing Back Into Fitness
As mentioned above, returning to exercise should be a slow and cautious process. True, this can be frustrating, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Still, we get it; being fit is important. As a matter of fact, it became a priority for 70% of Americans during the pandemic, so you could say COVID-19 even increased the number of people exercising in the US.
With that in mind, doctors recommend using these helpful tips when reintroducing a fitness regime into your life:
- Listen to your body: Always be mindful of what’s happening to your body while exercising. If you feel any palpitations or chest pain, stop working out and contact your doctor. While exercise is very important for our health, things can get tricky in the case of COVID-19.
- Take it easy: Similarly, don’t power through your workouts when you start working out after COVID. Gradual progression is the key, and you want to take your time to build the intensity back up. Starting with brisk walks can be a great idea. If you’re into CrossFit or other more demanding gym-based sports, it might be wise to build your strength back up for a week or two before you go full-throttle.
- Have patience: Even if you were training for a marathon before getting sick, you would probably experience that your fitness levels have dropped quite a bit after contracting the virus, so be cautious. Don’t push yourself too hard even after you feel good, as your body is probably still recovering from the illness.
Since most of us aren’t full-blown athletes, we should take it as slow as possible during the recovery phase. Some experts even say that a full recovery may last as long as six to eight weeks, meaning that starting with smaller goals is a good idea.
Once you get better, there are loads of great home workouts to try out, but let’s look at some more straightforward exercises that you can do even if you’re not feeling 100%.
Can you exercise with COVID? Or, more precisely, can you do walks while you’re still ill? Well, even if you’re still feeling under the weather and weak, it’s okay to take a few steps around the house when you feel like it.
After you feel a bit better, concentrating on short and realistic goals is the way to go. Everybody will have a different sensibility, but aiming for short walks that you increase weekly can be a good start.
Something like this:
- Week 1: 5 to 10 minutes
- Week 2: 10 to 15 minutes
- Week 3: 15 to 20 minutes
- Week 4: 20 to 25 minutes
- Week 5: 25 to 30 minutes
After around six weeks, you should be okay with walking for at least half an hour five days a week. You’ll likely be able to keep up a brisk walking pace for the entire duration.
On the other hand, there are a couple of great exercises you might be able to perform in the comfort of your home.
Even if you’ve gotten completely bedridden after contracting the virus, some sort of post-virus exercise is essential. Even light exercise can help you recover faster.
Having solved the “when can I exercise after COVID” conundrum, let’s answer the other big question – which exercises you can do safely, other than walking.
The following exercises can be performed at home, right after you feel well enough to leave your bed:
Grab a chair, sit tall, lift your knee (one at a time), then return it to the floor. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each leg.
Seated Leg Lift
Again, sit on the chair, lift up your foot to straighten your leg, hold it up to 3 seconds and return it to the floor. Aim to repeat this at least ten times with each leg.
Sit to Stand
This exercise is a bit more demanding, but it can help you get the blood flowing. Start by placing your hands on the chair’s armrests. Push yourself up into a standing position the return your body to the chair in a controlled way. Aim to repeat this at least ten times.
Another good way of exercising with COVID–19 (after you start feeling well enough) is to perform the rowing arms. Just sit tall, hold out your arms at the shoulders, and move them forward to a resting position in front of your body.
Again, sit in a chair while keeping your heels on the floor. Lift your toes, then return to the starting position. Repeat this at least 20 times.
Here, aim to stand up while holding a bar or something that can give you enough support. Lift one of your legs to the side, and keep it straight, then return it into its neutral position. Repeat this around 15 times on each leg.
While standing, hold onto something for support. Extend your leg behind you, keep it straight for a bit and bring it back. Repeat this 15 times with each leg.
Stand up while holding onto something. Now, lift your knee as high as you can and bring it back. Repeat the movement around 15 times with each leg.
Stand tall, lift both your heels, come up on your toes, then bring them back. Perform this 20 times.
Exercising & Vaccines
Working out after a COVID vaccine should also be done in moderation, especially if you experience an allergic reaction to the shot itself.
We’re talking about common symptoms like hives, wheezing, and swelling, and they usually occur within four hours of getting your shot.
When experiencing these symptoms, either call your physician or, when the reaction is severe, the 911.
Take exercise easy if you have a history of respiratory issues like asthma. If you choose to exercise, at least have management medications at the ready, like an inhaler.
When it comes to exercising after a COVID vaccine, most experts agree that there are no specific guidelines or types of exercise to focus on. They also agree that at least some exercise is necessary and may even increase the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Also, exercise can help with antibody creation as well. Even though the currently available expert literature on the subject isn’t specific to COVID-19, physicians believe that the same results will apply.
Post Vaccine Considerations
Another great idea s to drink more water after getting your shot, especially if you develop a fever following it. Increasing fluid intake is a good idea anyway since it will prevent dehydration.
Also, decrease the intensity of your exercise sessions if they make you feel sick. Just like when you asked yourself, “Is it okay to exercise with COVID?” and took it slow. If you had a run planned but don’t really feel like you can pull it off, opt for a walk instead.
On the other hand, symptoms and side effects from getting the shot should resolve on their own within a few days. If this doesn’t happen, your best bet is to consult your doctor. Following the vaccine, if you still have a fever, experience difficulties with breathing, and experience fatigue while exercising, stop what you’re doing and reach out to your doctor.
So far, research hasn’t suggested that exercising after getting the vaccine can increase certain health risks, but remember to listen to your body.
Drink more water to be on the safe side and self-evaluate. If you’re not feeling ready for a rigorous session, ease up a bit. Also, if you’re experiencing severe symptoms from the vaccine, leave exercising altogether and contact your doctor.
So, can you exercise with COVID? Well, based on the severity of your case, you might resume exercising within only a few days of receiving a positive diagnosis, or you may have to wait it out until your body gets back to full health. Taking it easy is the key factor here as the long-term effects of the virus are still unknown.
On the other hand, exercising following vaccination should be more straightforward, but caution is still advised. Chances are, you will be fine, and you can exercise as you did before. If, for some reason, you develop symptoms post-vaccination, or feel a bit under the weather, ease up a bit. On the other hand, if the symptoms persist longer, contact your doctor.