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"Release all the guilt." Exactly what you need to know about exercising after COVID.

If you're recovering from COVID, chances are you've had a zillion different questions kicking around in your head. How long should my symptoms last? Why am I not better? How do I know if I have long COVID?

What makes it even more confusing is that everyone's experience with the virus is different - and with many of these questions, there's no one single right answer.

One of the most common questions, though? When can I start exercising after COVD? 

Watch: Just six characters who would OWN the pandemic. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

If you've been slinking around on the interwebs, you've probably noticed a heap of people talking about exercising after recovering from COVID. 

Co-founder and CEO of Keep It Cleaner Laura Henshaw recently spoke about these feelings associated with not being able to jump back into it after COVID.

For many people who enjoy regular exercise, skipping workouts and taking time off their usual workout routine can result in feelings of guilt. However, the fact is that pushing yourself too soon after recovering from COVID can have some very negative effects.

On Instagram, Henshaw wrote to her followers: "If you feel any guilt or shame around not exercising/moving if you have been unwell, take a big deep breath in and out, and on the out - let it go. Release all the guilt."

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To help break down exactly what you need to know about exercising after COVID, we spoke to a registered doctor and a fitness expert to find out more.

When can I start exercising after COVID?

"The symptoms of infection as well as the recovery process of COVID-19 can vary greatly between individuals," said Dr Andrew Thompson, a registered doctor at InstantScripts.

"A person’s recovery will depend on age, overall health and wellbeing, and how severe the COVID symptoms were."

With this in mind, returning to exercise can be different for everyone.

"It is entirely up to the individual to decide when they feel well enough to return to exercise. I strongly recommend postponing exercise if symptoms such as a cough, breathing difficulties, body aches, fatigue, or fever, still persist."

Instead, Dr Thompson suggests allowing the body to rest until symptoms have subsided before slowly returning to exercise. 

Generally, this means waiting at least seven days before exercising.

But what if I have no symptoms?

If you're completely asymptomatic or have really mild symptoms, there's nothing out there suggesting you should or shouldn't exercise before day seven.

However, it's important to note here that there's currently very limited evidence around COVID-related exercise rehabilitation or the potential long-term impacts. As mentioned before, everyone's experience with COVID is different - so it will depend on individual factors.

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"Some people who contract COVID are completely asymptomatic, while others will only be affected minimally by the symptoms. Those who are asymptomatic can exercise at home while they are infected, as long they are still isolating and not putting other members of their household at risk."

But, as Dr Thompson said, be aware of changes in your breathing.

"It is important to remember that COVID affects the respiratory system, so even if a person feels okay, doing exercise may affect breathing and leave the individual feeling tired much quicker than usual," he said.

"Aussies should remain vigilant about their symptoms and immediately stop physical activity if they start to feel worse."

When it comes to the exact symptoms you should monitor, our expert recommends paying extra attention to symptoms below the neck - including coughing, chest pain and abnormal levels of breathlessness. 

"You should also keep an eye out for feelings of fatigue, as it is important to not exacerbate any remaining symptoms," Dr Thompson adds.

"If a person is completely exhausted and unable to complete the same exercise the following day, it is a good indication that the level of physical activity was too much for their body and they should look at dialling it back."

What's the best way to exercise after COVID?

The most important thing to remember is that returning to exercise after COVID isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.

"Due to the way in which contracting COVID has impacted people in such a variety of ways, there isn’t going to be a single blanket response for 'the best way exercise post-COVID' BUT if you apply the same principles and approach to your training as you would when (re)introducing any training stimulus, you’ll be just fine," said performance coach Sean McInroy from Apex Strength Society.

"Err on the side of less - you’re unlikely to know whether you’ve overdone it until you’ve gone too far and pushed yourself a little bit too much, too soon."

For those who haven't been exercising at all, McInroy suggests a slower return to physical activity.

"Set the bar of expectation lower than you think you should/want to and rely on your subjective gauge of how well recovered you feel throughout the day (post-exercise) and into the next day to help determine your next step," he suggests.

"Do you feel comfortable to increase the training stress? Do you feel the previous day’s session was a little bit too much (based on how poorly recovered you feel)? Or do you feel like your response the day after training is sitting snugly in the sweet spot between those two ends of the spectrum? It’s simply a matter of trial and error."

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If you're looking for tips on how to gently get yourself back into exercising, physiotherapist and master pilates instructor Chloe de Winter from Go Chlo Pilates, posted this helpful clip on Instagram:

McInroy also reminds us to steer clear of introducing new exercise routines or training modalities - simply stick to what you know and are comfortable doing. 

"The key training variable you should look to focus on and scale back (to slowly scale up over time) is the intensity of your training (intensity referring to the subjective difficulty of a particular training stress)."

But remember - the types of exercise should be the same ones you were previously doing pre-COVID. 

According to McInroy, "After any hiatus from exercise, just getting back into the habit/routine is what holds a greater priority than the specific details of all the ins and outs of each training session."

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"Secondly, sticking with what you know will allow you to much more accurately gauge exactly how well you’re recovering post-exercise," he adds.

"The experience of going through the same/similar routines pre and post-COVID will provide you with accurate reference points to successfully identify just how well you’re handling the reintroduction of your exercise regime."

How long will it take me to get back to normal fitness after COVID?

As Dr Thompson outlines, the length of time it takes to bounce back varies greatly between individuals. 

"For some, it may be instantaneous, while for others it could be weeks or months after the initial infection."

"Recovery is an individual experience and Aussies should recognise that COVID can put the body through a significant amount of stress, so it is important to be patient and trust that fitness levels will eventually return. Progress, regardless of how slow, is still progress."

For those who are worried about getting back to their pre-COVID self, it's important to recognise what you've been through and make sure you aren't pushing yourself too hard.

"Use your pre-COVID training experience and performance metrics as a guide towards where you want to eventually get back to and then supersede but appreciate the unique set of circumstances in which your health has just been potentially significantly challenged," said McInory.

"Allow yourself enough psychological and physical leeway to find your feet again, get comfortable reestablishing your training routine along with other healthy habits. Don’t get too caught up with where you think you 'should be' rather than simply putting one foot in front of the other."

Dr Thompson adds that it's important to monitor your progress and symptoms closely and consistently until they feel completely normal. 

However, if you are struggling to get back into physical activity, it could be time to seek help from a medical professional.

"If exercise is still difficult around the eight-to-12-week mark after contracting COVID, I highly recommend consulting a GP to determine if there are any other underlying conditions or even visit a physiotherapist to develop a suitable training plan."

What's your experience with contracting COVID and exercising? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature Image: Getty