How do I return to exercise after COVID-19?


By now a majority of Kiwis have been infected by COVID-19 at some stage over the past two years.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste/smell
  • Headaches
  • Body aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Shortness of breath

With more serious symptoms including struggling to breathe, chest pain, and loss of speech/mobility.

Generally, COVID-19 infection symptoms last between 3-7 days within the infectious period. Once you start to feel better and the illness has resolved, most are safe to return back to some sort of physical exercise. Due to the number of body systems that COVID-19 can affect, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, blood, brain and wider nervous system, return to activity should be slow and steady.

Unity Studios - How do I return to exercise after COVID-19

Slow and steady

The activity intensity and duration should be guided on how you are feeling physically and psychologically. Increasing the volume too quickly can prolong fatigue and other symptoms. This can be incredibly frustrating, but it’s worth taking your time now to have better results in the long run.

As your symptoms allow, start with small volumes of low-intensity aerobic exercise – walking, stretching, and light Pilates.  You should then plan a graded return to exercise – for example slowly increase your walking distance and then intensity. If you feel good, add small intervals of running (lamppost to lamppost), then increase your running interval time.

Monitor for any of your COVID-19 symptoms during and afterwards. You may feel more tired then normal. Just listen to your body and make sure that you rest enough.

It’s advised to avoid more intense exercises like heavy resistance training and running until at least seven days symptom free. If you do stir up symptoms, rest, drink lots of water, have a good night’s sleep, and see how you feel the next day. A flare of symptoms is an indication of overdoing it, so drop the amount you did and build up again from there.

Returning to normal activity or sport generally takes around 3-6 weeks, but can often take much longer for those who have more severe symptoms. Returning to exercise is important for recovering from COVID-19. It just must be done in a step wise fashion, making sure you are able to recover well from each bout of exercise without any increase in symptoms.

A good night’s sleep, good nutrition, hydration and social connection is also vital to help you recover well.

Click here for further information about recovering from COVID-19.

Long Covid

Currently, as many as one in eight COVID-19 patients could get long Covid in New Zealand, meaning there is many of you or your friend’s and family who are experiencing symptoms 12 weeks after testing positive. Long Covid can make daily activities which were easily managed prior to COVID-19 exhausting. Common symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, and muscle and joint pain. Try and take regular breaks throughout the day and if you need a rest listen to your body. Try not to push through the feeling of exhaustion.

Click here for further information from Physiotherapy New Zealand on management of Long Covid

Our Foundations Pilates and Slow Flow yoga classes are the perfect way to ease yourself back into exercise after having COVID-19. Book in with us, or your local physiotherapist if you have any concerns, or would like a tailored return to exercise program. If your symptoms worsen and don’t settle, then checking in with your Doctor is advised.

Be kind to yourself, be patient with your recovery, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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