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How to safely return to exercise after having Covid

Covid symptoms vary from person to person, but this virus is unpredictable and even if you’ve had a relatively mild case, it can still wipe you out.

People who have come down with the latest variant, Omicron, are widely reporting extreme fatigue, headaches, body aches and fevers. The fatigue can really linger long after the worst symptoms have died down, so it’s important to pace yourself.

Exercise is a fantastic tool in our fight against illness – and getting your body moving after being unwell, or being stuck indoors isolating for days can be really beneficial and make you feel loads better.

But you have to be careful with nasty viruses like this one. Pushing yourself too hard when you’re not ready can set you back, or exacerbate symptoms that you thought were on the way out.

So, when is it safe to exercise after you’ve been unwell with Covid – and how much should you be doing?

First – let’s hear what a doctor thinks.

‘It can be tempting to go all-out with exercise after being cooped up, but it’s really important to be symptom-free before you start. I’d advise waiting around seven days after your symptoms clear up before you start trying to get back to your normal routine,’ says Dr Kathryn Basford, Asda Online Doctor by ZAVA.

‘It’s important not to rush back into the same level of exercise you were doing before you were ill. You’ll need to take your personal circumstances into account; think about factors like how severe your illness was, how long you were out of action, whether you have had to go to hospital, whether you still find some day-to-day things (like walking up the stairs) harder than you used to.’ 

Dr Kathryn says it would be smart to start slowly and then build back up to the levels of activity you did before.

‘You might want to try yoga, some stretching or walking rather than going straight back to running, for example,’ she says. ‘Try to listen to your body too. If you’re finding something harder than you normally would, scale it back. And make sure you’re fully recovered from the previous day’s activity before attempting it again. It might take weeks to get back to your normal level of activity.’

This slow return might sound daunting to fitness fanatics, but it will be worth it. Dr Kathryn explains that this gentle return will help to protect your joints and muscles so you don’t do yourself further damage.

‘Rushing back into exercise could risk developing injuries to your hips, glutes and hamstrings in particular, so don’t try to run at the same pace or lift the same weights – and warm-up and cool-down too,’ she adds.

‘Remember to stop exercising and seek medical help if you feel short of breath, dizzy or faint, if your heart starts to race, or your chest feels tight.’

Post-Covid fitness advice for the average person

From a practical perspective, here’s what the recommendations for the average person:

  • We should rest for 10 days from when symptoms begin.
  • It’s important to have at least 7 days symptom-free before returning to movement.
  • Slowly progress duration and intensity of workouts and build up over weeks and months.
  • Check in with yourself and your body and progress at your own pace.

When you do feel ready to start moving again, what kind of fitness is going to be best for your recovering body? Well, that might be different for everyone.

‘When returning to exercise after Covid, it’s important to show yourself kindness and compassion,’ says personal trainer and bestselling author Tally Rye.

‘Especially as we approach January, there is pressure to be working out intensely and to become your fittest self. However, during and after illness, it’s important to give ourselves unconditional permission to rest.

‘This is an intuitive movement principle that aims to take away the guilt and shame around rest so that we can listen to and trust ourselves and our bodies to decide when we are able to move, and when we should rest.

‘It’s important to think about the long term when discussing rest and return to exercise post-Covid. We plan to move our bodies for life, right? So, when we zoom out and look at the big picture, a few weeks or even months, is a drop in the ocean of our whole life.

‘So, don’t panic, exercise will be there when you are ready.’

Post-Covid workouts to try when you’re ready

Try Tally’s post-Covid workout plan to ease yourself back into fitness in a gentle and safe way.

Week one:

One low impact workout between 15-30 minutes to see how you feel, keep it bodyweight. Aim to go for a 20-30 walk 1-2 times.

Workout:

  • Bodyweight squats X10
  • Press ups (kneeling or full) X8-10
  • Glute bridge X10-15
  • Deadbugs X10

1-3 rounds

Week two:

Two low impact workouts between 15-30 minutes to see how you feel, keep it bodyweight. Aim to go for a 30 minute walk 1-2 times.

Workout:

  • Bodyweight squats X10
  • Press ups (kneeling or full) X8-10
  • Glute bridge X10-15
  • Deadbugs X10
  • Back raises X8-10

2-3 rounds

Week Three:

Two low/medium impact workouts between 20-40 minutes. Aim to go for a 30-45 minute walk 1-2 times.

Workout:

  • Goblet squats (with dumbbell or kettlebell) X10
  • Press ups (kneeling or full) X8-10
  • Glute bridge (with dumbbell or kettlebell) X10-15
  • Deadbugs X10
  • Back raises X8-10
  • Ice skaters X20

2-3 rounds

Week four:

Three low/medium impact workouts between 30-45 minutes. Aim to go for 30-45 minute walk 1-2 times.

Workout:

  • Goblet squats (with dumbbell or kettlebell) X10
  • Press ups (kneeling or full) X8-10
  • Glute bridge (with dumbbell or kettlebell) X10-15
  • Deadbugs X10
  • Bent over rows X8-10
  • Ice skaters X20
  • Walkouts to plank X5

3 rounds

‘It’s important to note that this will vary depending on your exercise history and what your fitness level was prior to Covid,’ says Tally.

‘These are a general guideline, but the choice of workout or activity may look and feel different to you (and that’s OK!).

‘Please always do what feels appropriate for you and your body.’

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