Obviously there are huge mental and physical health benefits to moving your body, and it’s important to adopt a fitness routine that works for you. But it’s also crucial to be smart about working out after COVID-19, because doing too much too soon could set you back even further.
“If someone is suffering from the symptoms of COVID, they should wait until those symptoms have been resolved before starting light to moderate exercise,” said, the medical director at Briarwood Family and Sports Medicine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a fellow at the American College of Sports Medicine. “This is typically anywhere between 10 to 14 days.” Exercising before then may worsen or prolong symptoms.
If you’re asymptomatic but have tested positive for the coronavirus, you may be itching to get moving sooner. After all, exercise can help your immune systemwhen it comes to respiratory infections like COVID-19, according to research published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine.
“The immune and inflammatory response to COVID is lower in asymptomatic individuals compared to those with symptoms,” Denay said. However, it’s still best to err on the side of caution and take it easy till you fully recover or in the event that you have a delayed reaction to the virus and show symptoms later than usual.
“All athletes and people that engage in exercise that test positive for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms, must rest for a minimum of 10 days,” said, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “If a person tests positive but does not have symptoms, the [rest period] starts at the date of the positive test.”
The best things to do are low-impact: Think walking, yoga, easy cycling or swimming. If you prefer strength training, use your body weight only or the lightest weight possible and build up from there. Don’t pick up where you left off weight-wise before you got sick.
Keep in mind you should start with the lowest number of reps as well, steering clear of any AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts where you crank out however many reps you can do in a set amount of time.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s helpful tofollow a 50/30/20/10 modification ruleover the span of four weeks,as this study published in HSS Journal recommends. This means your workout level should be reduced by at least 50% of your normal exercise capacity in the first week, followed by 30%, 20% and 10% in the following three weeks. But again, it’s important to pace yourself. You may need to adjust depending on the severity of your infection, and you may require “a graduated return to activity occurring over many months rather than weeks,” the researchers behind the study said.
Both Denay and Grawe said it’s critical to constantly monitor how you feel as you resume high-intensity activities, whether it be your workouts or any organized sports. If you experience any of the below, stop exercising and consult a health care provider before starting up again.
Ignoring these symptoms and doing high-intensity workouts anyway can potentially lead to arrhythmia for those with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle thatin some cases can be caused by COVID-19 (and may even go undiagnosed or remain unknown).
“As you start exercising again, keep in mind this is not the time to power through discomfort, particularly if it comes in the form of chest pain, heart palpitations or extreme shortness of breath,” Grawe said. “Listen to your body and keep in mind it’s going to take a solid one to two weeks to regain your fitness and get back on track. Increasing physical activity slowly and crescendo back to your normal routine will be safest.”
While this may be frustrating, use this time to focus on things that can help increase your performance and stamina not tied to sweating, such as proper hydration, stress reduction and nutrition. Remind yourself that rest can also be productive in the long term.
“Those who have been infected need to pay close attention to their body and keep an eye out for symptoms the same as someone would who has fully recovered from the virus,” Denay said. “It’s going to take time to resume previous levels of activity, and although the brain may be ready, the body may not.”