Dusting off the joggers and throwing on some active wear can be a daunting task when recovering from COVID-19.
Perhaps the Commonwealth Games or the fast-approaching warmer weather has inspired you.
Here’s what you need to know when returning to sport, whether it’s a simple parkrun or 80 minutes’ worth of football.
When can I start exercising again?
Well, it’s not black and white.
Initially, the Australasian College of Exercise Sports Physicians suggested seven to 10 days of rest when you first get the virus and then waiting for symptoms to improve before restarting very light exercise.
But since then, after following the illness and recovery of Tokyo Olympians, it has been established that strict or relative rest for too long might result in deconditioning and detraining, says sports general practitioner Tracy Shang.
Dr. Shang said it was a fine line.
“In other words, [you could experience] loss of muscle mass and it might take you longer to recover,” she said.
While COVID affected athletes in the same way as the general population, the fitter you were before infection and the earlier you gradually returned to light activity, the more likely that you were going to recover, Dr. Shang said.
But you can’t jump into the extremes, and it is difficult for someone to make that decision themselves.
We aren’t all Olympians.
The suggestion is to return to exercise at a light sort of capacity when your symptoms are pretty much resolved, but most importantly, listen to your body.
What exercises can I do?
If you have respiratory problems, you certainly can’t do the high-end aerobic training, so don’t head out for a casual marathon, says high-performance strength and conditioning coach Steve Nance.
He said you had to look at working under your anaerobic threshold for a lot of the time during a workout, so you didn’t stress your body too much.
If infection has created cardiac problems, especially high blood pressure, be careful with resistance training such as lifting heavy weights because it can cause your blood pressure to spike.
Mr. Nance suggests taking a common-sense approach.
“You can’t just go back to doing what you were doing before.
“You’ve got to be very, very careful with trying to set your goals too high right from the start because you’re still probably a little bit ill.”
A simple walk, short bike ride or swim would be a great place to start.
What happens if I push too hard?
The reality is, if you push too hard with your training early on then the symptoms of COVID-19 can take longer to resolve, Dr. Shang says.
Research from the University of Oxford, which studied 270,000 people recovering from COVID-19, suggests that 10 to 20 percent of people still had at least one of nine symptoms three months after infection.
“It’s not so much that it will bring on long COVID, but it’s more that your symptoms can just continue to be a problem,” Dr. Shang said.
I know, take it steady.
What signs should I look out for?
Some of the symptoms that people struggle with after infection are breathing problems, heart rate irregularities, tiredness, brain fog, muscle aches, pains, and fatigue.
The other thing with COVID is it’s an inflammatory condition that can affect multiple organs.
Some serious red flags that practitioners look out for are lung and heart complications, which can occur in some people who have had COVID-19.
“You can get muscle inflammation of your heart, which can result in chest pain that’s only brought on when you exercise,” Dr. Shang said.
“This is something that would need to be more carefully monitored.”
If you have chest pain, or if you are an athlete who has trouble with their breathing, seek medical advice and guidance.
But if you don’t have those symptoms just listen to your body and take time to slowly build up your endurance again, Dr. Shang said.
Is it harder to return to sport if I have been infected twice?
Unfortunately, some people are still in the process of recovering when they become reinfected.
Repeat infection has not been shown to always be milder, but vaccination and higher baseline fitness do seem to reduce the risk of severe illness.
That wasn’t the case, however, for Toowoomba athlete Mia Bowen Osmond.
After her second infection she could not return to sport for three weeks.
“The first time was okay… but the second time, I just didn’t get better for about three weeks, I couldn’t get to training or anything.
“I still don’t have my lung capacity.”
Is there anything I can take to help?
For symptomatic relief with initial COVID-19 illness, short-term use of paracetamol is advised.
Athletes or anyone experiencing common post-COVID symptoms should talk to their GP or sports doctor to assist with guiding and monitoring a safe return to sport.
Optimizing mental health supports, sleep and good nutrition, combined with “pacing” and not overdoing it are the recommendations, Dr. Shang said.
If you do feel you have symptoms weeks after infection, you can speak to your GP about attending a long COVID clinic, which have been set up in many state-based hospitals.
Uncertainty about how your body will react to physical activity after COVID infection is nerve-racking, particularly if you were at a strong level of fitness prior to getting sick.
It can also be disappointing when you don’t feel unwell, but your endurance isn’t where it used to be.
“That can be quite a frustrating process and can lead to lowered mood or lower confidence,” Dr. Shang said.
But we all know, the post-exercise endorphins are worth it.