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Exercise After COVID

People who get COVID-19 may have vastly different experiences. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all while others may face a whole host of symptoms including cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, muscle pain, nausea, fatigue and others. Most people with symptoms feel better after one or two weeks, though some people, known as “long-haulers,” may experience symptoms for months. For those interested in beginning an exercise program or resuming their regular exercise routine, long lasting symptoms can be especially frustrating and problematic.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), some of the commonly known benefits of exercising regularly are increased strength, improved bone density, reduced stress, increased muscular endurance, and increased cardiovascular endurance. In addition, regular exercise can lower a person’s risk of getting heart disease or diabetes. One benefit some people may not associate with regular exercise, however, is an improved immune system.

The ACSM recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Most experts agree that this should include strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility. After having COVID systems, however, returning to normal exercise routines may be difficult so the ACSM recommends four basic guidelines to use when getting back into your normal exercise routine.

1.) Wait until you are symptom free. COVID-19 symptoms should be completely gone for at least seven days before returning to physical activity. Anyone with severe symptoms or who was hospitalized for COVID-19 should get their primary care physician’s OK before returning to exercise that is greater than light activity.

2.) Start low. Begin at a no more than 25% of your pre-COVID-19 activity level. This would include distance, time and intensity. If you cannot carry on a conversation comfortably try easing up. Stay at that level for at least seven days without symptoms getting worse before doing more.

3.) Check with your doctor before increasing your intensity level especially if you had respiratory or cardiac symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or an elevated heart rate.

4.) Move throughout the day. If you are at a desk, driving, or watching tv, avoid sitting for long periods. Instead, take a break and walk around for at least a few minutes every hour. Try walking a lap around your house, doing some yard work, putting in a load of laundry or some other short chore.

Though beginning an exercise routine or getting back into an existing program may be difficult after an illness, it will be well worth the effort. The benefits of exercise include not only increased strength and stamina and improved mental health, but also a strengthened immune system. Research has shown that physically active people are much more resistant to illness and recover better than inactive people if they do happen to get sick. Remember to check with your healthcare team before beginning or resuming an exercise program and to start slowly. Over time, you will be back in fighting shape and back to living your best life.

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